Monday, February 26, 2007
What schools have to do with it
Assuming neighborhood streets are safe enough to accommodate them, any children Mrs. Bluegill and I may have will likely never need tax-supported transportation in order to complete their public education through grade 12. They’ll be able to walk or ride a bicycle. Save possible extra-curricular travel, they’ll require no buses, no bus driver salaries, no insurance, no maintenance, and no fuel.
Even though national trends have for several decades strongly favored costly new suburban and exurban school construction and multiple inner-city schools have been abandoned or threatened locally, we’ve made a conscious decision to live in such a way that saves the school system money that could be spent on teachers, staff, and equipment to further enhance educational opportunities, creates a daily exercise regimen to enhance children’s health during a time of alarming childhood obesity, and saves precious fossil fuels when even politicians with whom I normally disagree are rightfully touting energy independence as a major national security concern.
The same cannot necessarily be said for suburban and exurban dwellers. By choosing to live in outlying areas further from preexisiting schools, they necessitate, at least by local decision-making standards, the need for an extensive school transportation system. Tax dollars are siphoned from other educational concerns to provide it.
It seems a fairly straightforward premise, but what’s intriguing about this situation is that many times over the past few years, when I and others have suggested that government should create a system of incentives or disincentives to encourage living arrangement choices that would save the schools and other taxpayer-supported entities money by reducing costs, we’ve been branded socialists and radicals, mostly by more conservative suburban and exurban residents who insist that the free market, not the government, should dictate such things while actively using our tax dollars to subsidize their chosen lifestyles as part of a government sponsored scheme.
It’s an interesting conflict to say the least and school system decisions certainly influence its resolution, as well as many other development phenomena. The initial school transportation thoughts communicated here are only a small part of a larger equation. In fact, the reverse of the presented scenario is often true, when the schools rather than residents choose to move to previously undeveloped areas, creating sprawl rather than merely serving it.
The National Academy of Public Administration in 2004 published a good introductory article about the role schools play in wise development choices.
Billions For New Schools: How Well Spent?
by Neal Peirce
The article provides a link to a Michigan study on the topic, also published in 2004. The linked PDF seems troublesome, so here’s another link to an HTML version at the Michigan Land Use Institute’s site.
Also referenced is Edge-ucation: the compulsion to build schools in the middle of nowhere from Government Magazine
For even more information, visit the Smart Schools Initiative’s Links Page.
*Graphics Credit: Michigan Land Use Institute