Schools are important cornerstones for communities, and the hasty and far-reaching school closures recently proposed will have a variety of adverse impacts on Michigan’s communities, teachers, families and kids. Earlier this week, I participated in a media roundtable with several school groups to draw attention to these concerns.
While something certainly must be done to address Michigan’s struggling public schools, these proposed school closures, ranging between 10 and 100 schools, stand to cause more problems than they resolve. In fact, this move stands to further the racial and economic disparities that are currently rife in education in Michigan.
Many struggling schools are in urban and low-income areas and cities like Flint and Detroit that are already in crisis, and closing community schools will compound these problems. Families with more money can send their kids to private and charter schools in the same area, while low-income kids will be taken further from home and out of their environment.
This connection also exposes a budget issue, as state funding for at-risk pupils and school districts has been stagnant. In addition, state funding for support services for low-income families have also dramatically declined.
Parents and kids in these poor-performing districts will be forced to find other school options, often much farther away and in unfamiliar areas. In some districts, kids end up having to transfer to rival neighborhood schools, where their safety has been a huge concern, or to schools that are overcrowded themselves, also struggling academically and ill-equipped for a huge influx of new students.
School closures will put a particularly high strain on working parents, single parents and those with lower incomes that might not have viable transportation options—no school bus route, no public transit, one car or no car at all—to get their kids to school. Many parents don’t have the flexible work schedules to accommodate these new, longer commutes, either.
There are myriad factors that affect the health and learning of kids, and when a school closes, many low-income areas and communities of color lose other important programs housed in them, like pre-K programs, health clinics and more. Many schools also act as summer meal sites, with closures meaning less access to free, healthy food for local low-income kids.
These closed schools will likely stand empty, further hurting communities. They will be more than an eyesore—they will be dangerous sites that may still attract kids, as well as vandalism and other criminal activity. So much of a neighborhood or community’s value is tied in to the quality of schools available, and closed schools will also hurt property values and a community’s appeal.
These proposed closures are the latest in a long line of policies that have hurt families and kids of color and those with lower incomes more than anyone else. We need to be investing education and improving schools and working to improve race equity, not shuttering schools haphazardly and widening racial divides.
— Gilda Z. Jacobs