Tina K. Russell

May 17, 2008

Microcosms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:28 pm

Rich School, Poor School: The Gulf Is Wide – New York Times

To the Editor:

“Bids for Botox? Auctions Go Deep to Aid Schools” (front page, May 3) reports on the growing use of private fund-raising organized by parents for their children’s public schools.

Parents at the “highly coveted” Public School 41 have the contacts, financial resources and time to organize such affairs, raising hundreds of thousands of (presumably tax-deductible) dollars for computers, foreign language classes, teaching assistants and so on.

But what about the schools in poorer areas of the city, those with mainly minority students? There’s little possibility of such supplements there.

And so the already huge disparities in children’s education by race and class get intensified and reproduced.

One answer would be for P.S. 41 to share, on a 50-50 basis, its opulence with other, more needy public schools.

Chester Hartman
Washington, May 5, 2008

The writer is director of research for the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

The problem with this idea is twofold. First, this would create a troubling disincentive for needy public schools to organize their own gala auctions or other fund-raising drives, the kind they’d need to sustain themselves. (This is a trouble with all forms of welfare, which is not to say it’s never necessary.) Second, it would sap the energy from the fund-raisers themselves, with donors of auction items, organizers, and attendees angry that their money is going outside their own school district.

That’s not to say the problem isn’t real, though. A better idea, I think, might be for the schools in the area to share the auction items, rather than the proceeds from the auction, so that they each can have their own auctions and the auctions in the poorer areas would have items of no less quality than the auctions in the more affluent areas. It’s absolutely true that a needy school probably doesn’t have the same resources to do the kind of gala fundraiser that a school with all its needs met can do easily. I wonder if it would be better, though, to share those resources–in setting up the auction–rather than the proceeds from the auction.

By the way, most “welfare” situations are like this. Any system of welfare is imperfect, but like any imperfect system, it might be there to solve a real problem. Any attempt to replace or improve the system must be predicated on solving the problem more effectively, rather than using the system’s imperfections as an excuse to ignore the problem. You can do this with school auctions, you can do this with baseball, you can do this with real poverty. People on welfare, in general, want to get off, and the extent to which we help them get off, for good, is a measure of our worth as a society. Of course, this requires long-term investment, in housing, in healthcare, in education, in the people themselves. Welfare’s a tricky minefield, but if you focus on helping in earnest the people affected by poverty, you can get through it just fine.

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