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Politics Everywhere: School Closings and Inequality

- February 16, 2010

Many schools in the Washington DC area are opening today for the first time since the February 5th snow storm. Why didn’t public schools adopt a similar “liberal leave” policy as most work places and universities? After all, many areas in the region were widely accessible days ago. There is certainly demand from parents to do so. Indeed, one of my former colleagues has a long-standing plan to run for office based on the promise to keep Montgomery County schools open every day; a rather brilliant campaign plan that would have a shot if his other ideas weren’t so crazy.

The answer seems to be equity. This is from the Montgomery County Public School system:

To close by cluster or zone would mean students living in a less affected area might be unable to attend their school and vice-versa. This creates unequal access to the instructional programs and making sure each student receives the required days of instruction becomes difficult

This, of course, depends on the narrow view that schools are just educational institutions and not also places to keep kids while parents work. The equity concerns there run precisely in the opposite direction: poor parents are more likely to be hourly workers who would have to forego wages to provide child care. Or, they may be forced to choose child care solutions that are suboptimal for children. Women are likely more affected than men. From an equity perspective then, the best option would be to open schools but promise that children will not learn. Somehow I don’t think teachers are going to like this one.

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