Busing isn’t the answer to schools problem

Howard County needs a 21st-century solution to its problem of disparity, not a tired 20th-century one that only produces in the long-term greater segregation. Witness 1970s busing in neighboring Prince George’s County as a proof of this.

Beyond the parents who will have their children going to better schools, and their representatives who will support the proposed plan, and the parents and their representatives who feel they are on the losing end of the plan and are opposed, there is a central truth that cannot be ignored: The better schools are simply better because of their affluence.

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Studies have indicated that when the challenge index that allows for the challenges the students face is accounted for, the great schools look much more ordinary. Any plan that does not address this fact is doomed. In the short run, with busing, the better schools will decline a bit, and lesser schools will improve a bit, but in the longer term they will all decline.

Busing is not a stable solution; comparative affluence needs to be taken out of the equation for resolving disparity.

What is really needed here is a forward-looking school superintendent interested in genuinely solving the problem of disparity and not just looking for something flashy for the resume.

Steve Curtis

Dayton

Schools redistricting plan is the wrong approach

The government should not force a child to switch schools because of his or her family’s socioeconomic status. Yet, Howard County’s redistricting scheme uproots more than 7,300 students by redrawing school boundaries on the basis of family income — and, consequently, race. County officials say such discrimination solves “socioeconomic and racial segregation in the school system.”

That pretext, however, is not true. In 2017, The Baltimore Sun reported that “Howard County is the most integrated school district in the region. ... Children of different races — those who are black and white — are more likely to sit next to each other in Howard than almost anywhere else in the state.”

Officials exploit this diversity to substantiate their claim that the county is segregated. Howard County contains both high-income and low-income neighborhoods. That disparity, which would not exist if the county were homogeneously wealthy or poor, is condemned. So the superintendent’s redistricting proposal alters the distribution of low-income families across schools in pursuit of equity.

However, by the county’s own metrics, the superintendent’s plan actually exacerbates this alleged segregation. A draft resolution supported by a majority of the County Council says segregated schools are “defined as schools where less than 40% of the student population is white.” Under this metric, 43 schools in Howard County are racially segregated because they do not contain enough white people. The superintendent’s redistricting plan would increase this number to 45.

Though it is inappropriate for the county government to discriminate on the basis of family income or race when drawing school boundaries, redistricting to address overcrowding and vacancies is, of course, a legitimate purpose. Accordingly, the Board of Education already presented several modest redistricting proposals that solve over- and under-enrollment in the schools while relocating fewer students and eschewing socioeconomic discrimination.

Unfortunately, the superintendent rejected these ideas. Yet, with a new high school opening in 2023, the county will redistrict the schools again in two years, anyway, regardless of the superintendent’s current proposal. Socioeconomic redistricting in the meantime is rendered pointless.

Redistricting for socioeconomic equity jeopardizes resources reserved for low-income families. Howard County receives federal funds under the Title I program that it distributes on a school-by-school basis at the elementary schools with the highest percentage of students from low-income families. The superintendent insists his redistricting plan does not reduce the amount of money received under this program. However, the plan moves hundreds of families away from schools receiving Title I support, including low-income families.

At the same time, many families in high-income neighborhoods joined the community solely to attend their status quo schools. For example, in the River Hill school district — the high school with the county’s highest test scores — real estate signage advertises the school’s name alongside a million-dollar starting price.

And that, ultimately, may be the point. County officials criticize expensive real-estate developments as a problem that needs solving. One of the county’s representatives to the state legislature, Sen. Clarence Lam, said the status quo protects “wealth” and these families should not expect to send their children to their status quo schools because the Board of Education “are not wealth managers, they are educators.”

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If it is a problem for high-income families to invest in expensive developments near high-scoring schools, then redistricting on the basis of socioeconomic equity will surely solve it.

Lew Jan Olowski

Laurel

Leading the way to a hunger-free Howard

I can’t focus when I am hungry! It does not matter what task I am working on. Sometimes I get a headache, or my stomach hurts. Sometimes I feel tired and do not have energy to participate in what is going on around me and, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I get moody and may not be at my nicest.

Many of us are not ourselves when we are hungry. Most of us can quickly solve that problem by heading to our kitchen; however, there are many in our community who are unable to solve the hunger problem as quickly as they would like. As a result, those who are unable to satiate their hunger suffer and struggle on an ongoing basis.

Studies have shown that food insufficiency is associated with a higher prevalence of poor health conditions. In children, hunger-related toxic stress can negatively affect brain development, learning, information processing and academic achievement. Hunger is also associated with anxiety and depression among children.

What does this mean for Howard County? According to a 2017 study done by Feeding America, about 6.5% of Howard County residents are food insecure. That is approximately 20,000 individuals. That study translates into action and operation at the Howard County Food Bank, which is a part of the Community Action Council of Howard County. In fiscal 2019, the Howard County Food Bank supported more than 33,000 residents and distributed more than 1.1 million pounds of food. That is many more than the study identified, that is about 10% of our total population in Howard County.

These numbers demonstrate a deep and real need in Howard County and, more importantly, they tell the story that our friends, our neighbors and our community members are going hungry. Many families are struggling and are finding it more and more difficult to provide for their family’s nutritional needs.

September is Hunger Action Month. As we think about the start of the school year, and the high level of expectations we have of our children to perform well academically and socially, let’s come together and help remove hunger as a challenge for these students and their families.

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Bita Dayhoff

Columbia

President of Community Action Council of Howard County

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