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Diversity policy's concerns should not be ignored

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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On Tuesday, the Iowa City City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Iowa City School District revenue purpose statement, which addresses socioeconomic and enrollment imbalances in the district.

The School District’s revenue purpose statement is a legal document that guarantees the district power over currently gathered sales taxes for the purposes it sees will best accommodate the schools and students. Without the new statement, the district would be unable to make long-term plans and investments; the current statement expires in 2017.

The revenue statement has the full support of the City Council, and it should be supported by voters in the School District. It is a necessary step in ensuring that local schools remain under the control of local community members and help to address socioeconomic inequalities that plague the schools.

Though the policy’s passage is necessary, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the complications and controversies surrounding the issue cannot be ignored.

“I do think that we as a council should think about ways in which we can better increase the socioeconomic balance throughout neighborhoods and therefore throughout the School District,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “It’s a complicated thing, but I support the resolution.”

For example, of the 19 elementary schools in the district, six have more than half of their students receiving free or reduced lunches. More disconcerting is the widespread disparity among the schools, with some schools having fewer than 10 percent and others having more than 70 percent of their students on the programs.

The schools with the highest rates of students receiving nutrition assistance are also those schools with the greatest numbers of students choosing to open-enroll at different schools. According to a survey done by the district, the most common reason for leaving schools is overcrowded classes.

Among the many negative outcomes of high poverty rates in schools are lower test scores from students in high poverty schools, decreased likelihood of graduating, and less effectiveness on part of high-quality teachers. Poverty does not only affect the students, it affects the faculty and it affects the whole community.

Parents and community members must all work together to confront the problem and improve our schools. The first step is endorsing the revenue purpose statement, but the efforts must not stop there.

“It’s not clearly spelled out, and I am going to have to trust that they will be fair,” said City Councilor Connie Champion regarding the manner in which the School District will use the funds. “I think there is a real unfairness in the physical structures of the buildings, and I have talked to the School Board about that, and I feel very strongly in that we need to try to equalize physical structures.”

Champion served on the School Board for nine years before becoming a city councilor.

“There are multiple implementation tools available to the district,” Hayek said “Those include redrawing boundaries, offering magnet schools with special programing and special opportunities, and those things are attractive to people.”

The community must ensure that we maintain control over the tax revenue we provide, but we must continue to discuss and debate the merits of the proposals to improve our schools. A strong education builds up communities, so it is up to this community to provide a strong education for our students.


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