A Responsibility to Schools

I attended a recent MCCSC school board meeting and it brought to mind several ways the city could and should be doing more to support MCCSC and their district-wide educational goals.

City government and the governing body for MCCSC, the School Board, are completely separate entities, but each is incredibly dependent on the other. Most of the MCCSC schools exist within the official city boundaries and thus depend on city routes for safe transportation of children to and from school. The population the schools serve are a subset of the city population. The children in the classrooms today are going to be the ones who Bloomington wants to retain and employ in various sectors 5, 10, 20+ years from now and Bloomington government and businesses depend on the public schools to make sure those children are prepared and able to take on the adult responsibilities and understandings of living in community.

Public schools are charged with educating all children and in large part do so based on where those children live. Attending neighborhood schools, i.e. the schools geographically closest to where you live, makes sense on numerous levels. Neighborhood schools serve a community role in strengthening neighborhoods, connecting neighbors, and can be community gathering places. Attending school closer to home means more efficient transportation and more opportunity for families to engage with their child's school. Engaging families with teachers, administrators and school staff can relieve concerns and demystify the educational experience. Basically it's good all around. Except maybe for diversity.

Neighborhoods are often economically homogeneous, with groupings of high priced housing options in one area and low priced options in another area. This means that neighborhood schools often reflect limited economic diversity. Given connections between income and race, that means that neighborhood schools are often not very diverse with regard to race or culture either. Research has shown that all children have better performance in classrooms rich in racial and cultural diversity, and so it follows that students would benefit if there were more distributed housing options. MCCSC has stated goals related to equity and diversity and are activity working towards increased access and opportunities within the school corporation. City government should support the diversity work in the schools by focusing on diversifying family housing opportunities in Bloomington.

In an ideal situation, every neighborhood would have housing options that appeal to high income families AND feasible options for low income families. That is not the case currently. While some elementary school districts appear to have good income distribution, according to the Indiana Department of Education, 85.6% of the Fairview Elementary School population in downtown Bloomington qualifies for free and reduced lunch. Comparatively, 9% of Child's Elementary School on the south side qualifies. MCCSC can only do so much to address neighborhood school income disparity and diversify school populations for the benefit of all students. Bloomington city government must step in to support the diversity work in schools by providing housing incentives that will result in diversified housing opportunities throughout Bloomington.