I was happy to read Robin Huebner’s recent article in The Forum about the way the Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo Public School Districts handle the special transportation needs of homeless students. According to the article the districts use cabs or transportation services for those students that need transport to shelters, hotels, or homes they are temporarily staying at that are outside the regular bus routes. Robin reported that the homeless student K-12 population in the 2015-2016 year was 231 at Fargo Public Schools, 165 at Moorhead Public Schools, and 64 at West Fargo Public Schools. That totals 460 students that were homeless in the area in the past school year.
In the article, it was noted that “Fargo schools offered 1,632 district-initiated cab rides at a cost of $26,777 in 2015-16 — all covered by federal dollars.” As follow-up statement, the district’s business manager made the following clear, “We’re not subsidizing through the general fund.” I understand why he offered that in a day and age where every expenditure is micro-analyzed. But I want to say to anyone and everyone who will listen, that whether this service is paid for by the federal government or paid for out of the general fund, it is worth every single penny. Indeed, it is a small price to pay to ensure these students maintain access to education.
Education, when done correctly, delivers what I call the three “O”s – outlook, opportunity, and outcomes. These three “O”s accrue to the benefit of both individuals and society. These are the things we should be focusing on when we find ourselves trying to quantify the benefit of the transportation costs to and from school for homeless children.
Education changes the outlook of students. It provides a worldview of the possibilities available to them beyond the limited scope of the life they are now living. It allows them the framing within which they can imagine a future that extends beyond their geographic, cultural, or socioeconomic boundaries. Education is the magical lens through which children envision the adult they want to, and can, become.
Over the years, a high school diploma has become a baseline credential for most employment and college. This credential provides the opportunity to move beyond the school walls to an adult life with a wide-variety of choices. Absent that credential, many options are closed.
It is well-documented that providing a good education to children results in improved societal outcomes. A lack of education limits both the outlook and opportunities of individuals and can perpetuate poverty. Poverty affects living conditions, access to resources, and self-perceived value and status. This can increase an individual’s vulnerability to drugs, crime, and other maladies that reduce quality of life. These outcomes often require societal systems to step in as a social safety net, policing arm, or punitive enforcer. Billions of dollars are spent annually on maintaining these societal systems.
The next time you look at the cost of education as a taxpayer, remember what you get for your money. It is not the simple linear equation you may think. The education of a child cannot be measured in static dollars, it is a much more dynamic equation than that. Look beyond the child to his or her future as a contributing member of society. Education, or the lack thereof, can change the future of individuals and society for better or worse. Decide what bill you want to pay – the bill that ensures access to quality education or the bill that comes with the lack of access to quality education. Do the math, one bill is a lot bigger and more painful than the other for both individuals and society.
Access to education is essential to children’s future success. Thankfully, our area school districts understand how important it is to ensure that area homeless children get to and from school. With the cost incurred in providing this transportation, they have helped change the children’s lives and the ways in which they will engage with society. That is exactly how we should be spending our money to build a brighter and more compassionate tomorrow.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da