Equality of Opportunity

Jeff highlights this story:

When state Sen. Hank Sanders, D- Selma, informed legislative colleagues that Lowndes County public schools were using coal to warm students in the winter, they had a hard time believing him.

It was 2003 and some of the lawmakers who listened to him thought he was putting them on in an effort to obtain funding for his senate district.

“They associated coal-burning furnaces with the ’50s, but we still had it here so many years later,” Sanders said, referring to the nine schools in the system that once relied on coal and noisy radiators to keep students warm during the winter months.

The beginning of the 2006-07 school term in Lowndes County marks the second year that students will be more comfortable thanks to a $1.9 million legislative appropriation sought and obtained by Sanders. 

Sanders was familiar with complaints by principals, teachers and students, but without sufficient funding, there was little that could be done to improve the situation. In past years, when winter arrived, students wore coats, hats, scarves and gloves during class. Clanky, hissing radiators also made it difficult for them to hear their teachers. . . .

Last week, Sanders was joined by state Board of Education member Ella Bell and Lowndes County Superintendent of Education Daniel Boyd at Jackson-Steele Elementary School in White Hall.

Bell was even more familiar with Jackson-Steele than Sanders because she had made numerous visits to the school through the years.

“I used to come here and find soot on the walls because of the coal that was burned,” she said. “We’d have to wash them down to get it off. It was a bad situation for everybody.”

While the Lowndes County kids were getting black lung disease, students in Homewood Alabama got to enjoy this:

Sustainable design is crucial to the health and well-being of students in K-12 schools, many public health experts believe. Because young people’s immune systems are not fully developed, they are more susceptible to irritation resulting from the built environment. Students need fresh air, daylight, and a healthy environment to learn in.

Homewood (Ala.) Middle School [is] the nation’s first [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified middle school. Completed in December 2004, the 1,000-student, $24-million, 180,000-sf middle school was designed by Giattina Fisher Aycock Architects of Birmingham, Ala.The building achieves 38% energy savings, 40% water savings, 50% reduced water use, and 95% daylighting of interior spaces.

I know, I know, you can throw money at the problem all day long without solving anything, parents need to get involved, personal responsibility is the solution, education should be controlled locally, when you were a kid you walked to school in bare feet through the snow uphill both ways, taxes are of the devil, the poor you will always have with you, yada, yada, yada.

But can anyone really salve their wealthy consciense with the balm of our alleged meritocracy while schools are this disparate? None of these kids had a choice in the matter. They went to school where the law and their parents said they had to go to school. For some, that was a wonderful new building, filled with all kinds of technological marvels. For others that was building without heat or air. Teachers, however, do have a choice. And in light of that, which school do you think gets the better teachers?

Sure you can explain the inequality, and even excuse it. But that does not make it right. If we really cared about giving everyone an equal opportunity, disparities like this would not exist.

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5 Comments on “Equality of Opportunity”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Amen! Back before Amendment One was so soundly trounced, our school superintendent spoke in support of it at a local civic club. One listener said he’d be all for it if its intent was to benefit Vestavia schools, but he couldn’t be bothered to support other school systems. Incredibly short-sighted, but unfortunately typical of the Alabama mindset.

  2. Lee P Says:

    When I at UA in the ’90’s, they still had radiators in some of the older buildings, including the dorm I lived in…and they burned coal to make the heat. The radiators did make lots of noise.

  3. wheeler Says:

    dorms are a different story all together. i’m surprised you had heat at all.

  4. Lee P Says:

    Haha! Me too.

    But when we had heat, we had HEAT. The pipes ran under the floors, so most of the time, you didn’t even have to turn on the radiator in the room…the floor “radiated” enough on its own.

  5. Wheeler Says:

    i will never understand why buildings on college campuses are always the wrong temperature. either it’s no heat and no air, or else the air is set to -50 in the summer and the heat is at 102 in the winter. with all that brain power, surely someone could make it work right.


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