Back to the future?

Sam Horton, the president of the Hillsborough NAACP, is on to something. He has been pointing out that the school district ought to be able to find a better way to spend the $4.6 million allocated to launch the voluntary desegregation effort called “controlled choice.” That’s the plan that has replaced 33 years of busing for integration purposes.

To Horton, as well as anyone else who can differentiate a boondoggle from a pedagogical priority, that’s money that could have been spent on something else. Improving instruction comes readily to mind.

Horton, however, should have stopped right there.

Instead, he segued into his main agenda: That the choice plan concern is more than a matter of misspent money. More to the point, it’s a very ineffective way of protecting integration. You see, in this first year of “controlled choice,” not enough students are choosing to inconvenience themselves by opting for a school that’s not nearby. Imagine that.

To the NAACP, that’s “resegregation.” And, sure enough, statistics show that 33 county schools are now “racially identifiable (black enrollment of more than 40 percent) in a county where the black population is 15 percent.

To the kids and parents who no longer want to be part of a social experiment, there’s another word for it: neighborhood schools. Remember them?

To Horton, this is “back to the future” stuff. As in the bad, old “separate but equal” days that predated the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.

A little perspective, please.

Two points:

First, there’s a chasmic difference between de jure segregation whose underpinning was the racial-inequality affirming Plessy vs. Ferguson and parents who simply choose to send their kids to the nearest school.

Second, how insultingly racist is it to make the case, in effect, that too many blacks in a given school cannot constitute a sound educational environment? Surely, the NAACP wouldn’t want to be party to that twisted tenet.

Hillsborough County and any other school district have the legal — and moral –responsibility to provide equal education opportunities in terms of school facilities, equipment, curriculum, textbooks and instructional personnel. That well-monitored mandate can co-exist with true neighborhood schools, regardless of the racial composition.

As with any other school district, however, Hillsborough has no control over certain key educational variables, such as parental involvement and an education-encouraging culture. And no “controlled choice” scenario or busing blueprint will change that.

There are better ways to spend educational dollars than on marketing “controlled choice” or gassing up a lot of school buses. You’d think we would have learned at least that these last 33 years.

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