Lessons in bad money management: school districts

If you build it, they will come. But not necessarily.

A recent three-part report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals that the building spree by Milwaukee Public Schools is a dismal failure.

The $102 million initiative to revamp buildings was supposed to get students into local neighborhood schools and improve education. Instead, newly furnished classrooms are used for storage, and half-empty buildings are sprinkled throughout the district. Many specialty teachers in the fields of science, art and music have been downsized in budget cuts while enrollment has continued to tumble.

Like many urban school districts, Milwaukee Public Schools works with some of the poorest children in the city. Many of the children literally do not have parents. They may be living with a grandparent, uncle, aunt or other relative. At the school where my husband works, more than 20 children are bused to school from a homeless shelter. Even those who are lucky enough to have a biological parent often have only one. At a recent open house at an elementary school of approximately 200 children, only six fathers showed up.

It is clear that what these children need are parents, not just buildings. And if they do not have parents involved in their education, someone else better be available. Instead of facilities and expensive buildings, the money would have been better spent with additional staffing in the classroom, mentors for individual development, and tutors for special help. The $102 million could have purchased a lot of services for these children and their families.

These children need someone who will read to them, encourage them, and structure their learning. If parents are not available, the role of the school needs to be re-evaluated. Research demonstrates that students who perform poorly in reading in the elementary grades are very likely to stay poor readers. The inability to read well affects all aspects of a child's future life, including vocational, financial, and daily activities. Some states now use 4th grade reading scores to project the number of prison beds they will need in the future.

Perhaps it is time for a new initiative for kids; No Parent Left Behind.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro and the author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Overcoming the Myths That Hinder a Happy Marriage. For more relationship tips the expert use, please visit Marriage Tips. For Barb's FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit The People Pro.

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