What happened to Kelley Williams-Bolar case provides a view into the deep structural inequities of funding the public school system. These inequalities are the outcome of a system that is compulsory and whose control and regulation is distant from those who use it. The schools may be compulsory but almost 100 years of work has ensured that this stream of children funds many activities that shift money and access upward. And so we have massive inequalities that our current system helps create and preserve through disempowering parents, allowing savage funding disparities, and by creating a credential race that is tiered across 12+ years of grades, a long enough time to ensure that only those with sufficient funds and staying power can endure.
Now, with the Williams-Bolar case, we see just how class warfare works: substantial public funds used to pay detectives to root out what are not crimes at all, but conscientiousness and good parenting. Williams -Bolar cared about her kids and worked to help them by enrolling them in a school 2 miles away in a district her father lived in, a situation that the schools themselves should be helping all parents with everyday. That is what a public service like the schools should specialize in and support and we could employ people to do this. It would not be difficult to move kids around and ensure flexible arrangements within the system except for one thing: funding tied to the child and the district. This funding creates the public-private hybrid that is as dysfunctional as our now mandatory private health insurance and just as expensive.
Defying an illegal and unjust system: The courage of Kelley Williams-Bolar | Race-Talk:
This excellent post discusses the unequal funding and how in the current downturn we see some school districts going to court to enable them to pay more taxes so their local schools can benefit. The education system with its reliance on compulsory attendance tied its funding to the child, which tied that funding to the district.
Now, once again, consider the claim that Kelley Williams-Bolar “stole” educational services from Copley-Fairlawn by sending her children to the wealthier, high performing school district rather than the one in which she resided. If the State of Ohio’s system of public school funding was truly a state-wide system as required by the state’s Constitution, rather than predominantly local, then the idea that one could “steal” educational services from one district while residing in another district would make no more sense than the argument that you could steal medical services by visiting a non-local emergency room. Moreover, if Ohio complied with the Ohio Supreme Court’s insistence that overreliance on local property taxes is unconstitutional, then the inter-district disparities that prompted Kelley Williams-Bolar to move her children to safer schools would diminish.
Federal law shields affluent, predominantly white suburban districts from the threat of busing by prohibiting desegregation across district lines.[ix] And the Rodriguez decision, which permits inter-district funding inequality, sanctions and even incentivizes the flight and clustering of affluent families into wealthier enclaves. The consequence is a pernicious cycle of highly segregated, high-poverty districts on the one hand, and affluent, high-performing districts on the other. If the connection between local property valuation and school quality were severed, the clustering that generates a vicious cycle of opportunity, on the one hand, and poverty, on the other, could be broken.Funding Tied to the Child
The public school system has become a public/private hybrid draining resources from poorer districts and insulating wealthier districts, indeed, even allowing them to become quasi-private clubs. The education system with its reliance on compulsory attendance, tied its funding to the child, and in many states, tied that funding to the district. And so we get inequitable and unfair funding and school districts who see policing as the management tool used on families in a democratic state.
Funding is quasi-local and skewed by class while standards are imposed from remote, out-of-state corporations that generate the numbers used to further reward investment in their local schools by wealthier districts. And since jobs have been ever more linked to schooling, and schooling, to quote John Holt, rewards those who can stay in the longest which defaults to those with more resources. The most egregious example is the BA, a degree not publicly funded in the US, as it is abroad, and a degree widely required though no public path is provided.
And so the schools to prison pipeline has become the default plan for poorer districts while the school to college pipeline is what some districts can manage by increasing funding and support within their district. This is allowed and promoted by school funding laws and it enables wealthier districts to ensure their children get a better education by piggybacking on top of a so-called public service.
It keeps going: now many colleges want to increase access by wealthy families from out of state. These schools cannot envision how to transform themselves nor do they remember the function of the public university. We have millionaires in Congress and very rich salaries at public institutions even as they discuss how unpublic they will have to become to retain their current financial model.
Many Americans may be surprised to learn that there is currently no right to an education under the United States Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court held, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, not only that there is no fundamental right to an education under the Constitution, but that, as a consequence, disparities in funding between districts are not cognizable legal claims. [i] School funding equity advocates subsequently shifted their attention to state constitutional provisions. Such litigation generated several important Ohio Supreme Court rulings.In the US, we have compulsory attendance laws, not compulsory education laws, and homeschoolers have discussed these and have had to work on changing the compulsory attendance laws to allow homeschooling. In a country where even the army is volunteer, moving toward even more coercion of families and children is moving in the wrong direction. We need greater democracy and more open and transparent institutions and far greater equity. We need states to provide a system of schools, equitably funded and open access with far more support for families. The private piggybacking on public support should not be allowed: it is not a public system, it is a hybrid, quasi-private arrangement.
We need truly public schools in a system that is not tied to the district but a comprehensive, open-access system, like single-payer healthcare. And that system should be focused on providing families learning services and allowing families to access what they need and leave aside what they do not. Compulsory attendance has created a bureaucracy that is guaranteed an income and one that, increasingly, actually feeds off the failures of children (school to prison pipeline, remediation industry, ever-mounting curricular and testing programs, etc.). Children live in families and social services must be truly social and use this situation as an asset , allowing families substantial and growing input and choices.
In a truly public system, a conscientious mother would be able to get help from the schools and allowing her children to attend a different school should not be a big deal. And these kids attended a school less than 2 miles away in a district in which their grandfather lived. Compulsory attendance laws have not only disempowered parents from having substantial input, they have helped create this hybrid system that now enforces territories with the police. This is a frightening case in what it shows about class warfare, racism, and the policing of parents by schools. This police power is wrong and it is used against the working-class at ever-growing levels.
Ms. Williams-Bolar’s case raises so many complex questions involving class, educational equity, criminal justice, race, and familial status that, in the words of Michelle Alexander, “it’s hard to know where to begin.” We can begin by examining the unconstitutional system of school funding that produced the inequity she attempted to overcome. It’s difficult to imagine that her children would have been targeted had they been white, in which case they might have passed as residents. It’s difficult to imagine that she would have suffered the same fate if her child was a star football or basketball athlete. In such cases schools actively recruit lower-income students from across district lines. It’s difficult to understand how we can impose a felony conviction, with all of the attendant lifetime consequences, for a courageous act of civil disobedience against an unjust and illegal system.
Our system of public educational provision is both separate and unequal. Justice Douglas warned in 1974 that “we are now in a dramatic retreat from the 7-to-1 [Plessy] decision in 1896 that blacks could be segregated in public facilities, provided they received equal treatment.”[x] At least the Plessy decision required separate, but equal. The retreat that Justice Douglas observed in just thirty years time became a rout, and the consequences are now fully manifest. If we are to regain lost ground and fight for a system of fair and equitable educational provision, we need an army of courageous men and women like Williams-Bolar and those who are willing to stand up for them.