We revel in stories about our cities and counties, but, aside from the sports section, rarely see anything substantive about school districts.
School districts are more numerous than counties (289 to 92) and what newspaper has room for all that information which parents learn from their children anyway. And it’s just about the kids and most businesses that advertise don’t have kids for customers.
Yet, Indiana’s school districts are very different one from the other. The latest comprehensive school district data are for 2016 in the American Community Survey, which is a five-year compilation, and who can tell what that means?
For example, the highest rate of unemployment in that Census Bureau report was 10.8 percent at the Lake Ridge schools of Lake County, while the South Knox schools, down in the Vincennes area, had a mere 0.9 percent unemployment rate.
What’s that got to do with education? Everything. Parents who aren’t working aren’t earning and therefore bring home less money to feed, house and clothe their children. Those tykes may wonder what’s different about them from the other 90 percent of parents and kids. And that could be the start of being set apart from the progress expected in school.
Speculative? Maybe, unless you’ve lived among the richest in our country. Where unemployment is phenomenally low, youngsters and their parents wonder what’s wrong with “those others” who aren’t enjoying the good life, the rewards of our personal endowment of good fortune.
Or consider the differences in lifestyle and opportunities for students in Zionsville where only 9.9 percent of households have income below $35,000 per year, compared to the 60.6 percent of households in Cannelton. What’s the probability of a 10-year-old from Zionsville visiting Chicago and seeing those museums compared with that kid in Cannelton, on the Ohio River, even getting to Louisville or Evansville?
We talk about our schools being the great equalizers, the institutions demonstrating that “all men are created equal.” But if you are born in a place of poverty or of plenty makes a huge difference in your school experience.
It is that school experience which we now claim is inadequate and therefore responsible for the newly discovered skill deficiencies of our Hoosier work force. OK, I’ll buy some of that. But what can we do about it?
One answer is to change the incentives given for firms to locate or expand businesses where they please rather than where they are needed. Too often this is declared impractical, expensive, against the prejudices of companies, and inconsistent with free choice.
Bunk. All incentives are designed to overcome such obstacles. Our community and state leadership is simply so convinced of their wisdom, they are not willing to make the efforts to improve the schools and communities of our poorest areas.
Morton Marcus is an economist. His views can be followed on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available. Or reach him at email@example.com.