Billie Mallory: School activity-fund disparities rooted in community neglect

August 4, 2014 

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Billie Mallory, shown in front of her East End home, is "a reluctant community activist."

HERALD LEADER

  • At issue: July 13 Herald-Leader article, "Rich Schools, Poor Schools; Activity funds show growing economic divide in Fayette County"

  • About the author: Billie Mallory is a Lexington social worker and community activist.

The Herald-Leader recently published comparisons of monies raised for student activities in each Fayette County School.

Is there a connection of such inability to raise funds for extracurricular activities to the socioeconomics of the community in which such schools serve?

In my community, there certainly is.

The East End (just north of Main Street) is home to William Wells Brown Elementary, proposed as the first "community school model" in Fayette to serve an extremely high-risk community.

However, the school is at the bottom of the list, raising a little more than $11,000 for student activities.

Not too surprisingly, this school has a 93 percent rate of free/reduced lunch in a neighborhood surrounded by the largest low-income housing development (which used to be the site of the Bluegrass-Aspendale projects), with nearly 300 families living far below the poverty rate.

This is a population just struggling to exist (pay bills, buy food and school clothes) with a 20-percent unemployment rate. How could they possibly raise funds for extra activities?

As if that is not dismal enough, there is a lack of decent affordable housing while there is a surplus of abandoned homes and vacant lots languishing with weeds, trash and criminal activity.

There has been a recent rise in violence, with drug-related crimes nearly on a daily basis. Not too surprisingly, the latest standardized test scores placed William Wells Brown at the very bottom of student achievement in the county, and in the bottom 10 lowest-performing schools in the entire state.

There is definitely a correlation here that decries inequality in this community and inequity in its education.

Though the East End is stressed by extreme poverty and depressing statistics, it is also a community of proud history and diversity. It is a community that could use a hand up, not a handout.

It could use upgraded infrastructure, revitalized businesses, rehabilitated homes that are safe and affordable, employment skills training and jobs that pay a living wage, equalized funding for student school activities and vitally funded community centers to offer enriching youth programming.

The Urban County Government has the obligation to equalize our communities through more equitable planning, funding and community development. The school system has the opportunity to provide better educational equity as we consider redistricting and planning for the betterment of our schools for all students.

In all, Lexington can and must do better in offering equal opportunities for living, working, learning and thriving in all of our communities.

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