Separate St. Louis education is not equal

By Tom Murphy VII (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Old book bindings at the Merton College library, by Tom Murphy VIILicensed under Creative Commons
The racial division of St. Louis is clearly illustrated by young families in St. Louis. Young families close to having kids leave their brick bungelows in the city for homes nestled in suburban school districts. The usual targets are Lindbergh, Parkway, or Rockwood, the bigger, well-funded of the area. Brentwood, Kirkwood, Ladue, and Webster Groves, smaller, but still well-funded, also make the list.

The house hunt for these families goes something like this: 3 bedroom, maybe 4, 2 bathroom, big backyard for junior, 2 car garage. Older, charming cottage? Oh, yes! But only after we complete the St. Louis County lead-abatement program.

For the families who stay, their children mostly attend private schools or better-funded charter or magnet schools over the neighborhood schools. There are the families who choose to have their kids attend the neighborhood schools. But that’s just it. They have a choice.

Choice is a privilege many people forget they have. Others are acutely aware that they don’t have that privilege.

The other families who have to stay, usually their kids have to attend their neighborhood schools. They have to. There is no choice. They don’t get that privilege.

Why is this a problem? Public schools rely on property taxes for funding. If you live in, say, Ladue, your property taxes are higher than those of Webster Groves, and those are higher than those of Fenton, and those, while lower, generate more income than those property taxes in St. Louis City.

Here are some examples. These are actual property tax figures from 2015. All the homes used were approximately the same size:

Fenton:                   $7572.27
St. Louis City:         $8159.71
Webster Groves:     $9329.12
Ladue:                     $15,961.37

Ladue arguably comes out on top. St. Louis City is near the bottom, but population, household income, etc. affect paid property taxes thus affect school funding.

St. Louis City is pretty small. People usually work there and go home to the suburbs. Our night life isn’t huge. Many properties are vacant, or the families have trouble paying for groceries, so why would they be able to paid their annual taxes? Only property tax funding that gets paid gets paid to the schools.

Read more about how school funding’s reliance on property taxes fails children from NPR and how your own school stacks up. Find out how Brittany Packnett is tackling the education problem here in St. Louis from all angles.

There are children in our community not receiving the education the St. Louis community can afford. We are failing them. We are failing our future.

On top of the lack of funding, the SLPS students are being poisoned with IQ-robbing lead in the drinking water. This is all happening while the children a 20-minute drive away are getting decadence added to their Fiji-water education: the water fountain returns as a metaphor for division in St. Louis.

We treat city and county as separate. They are very unequal. It’s no wonder why education inequality thrives here.

My question is, why wouldn’t the people who can afford to donate to education want to donate somewhere where the funds can make a huge difference? Wouldn’t they want to be that kind of a hero?

Education Coffee Chat

Yesterday I had a great chat with fellow educator, Sherita Love. I met Sherita at Venture Cafe a couple of weeks ago where she put together a panel of other talented educators. This panel spoke about the education inequalities and in the area and what they were doing to examine and affect the problem.

The panel only was able to chat shortly because the audience felt they needed a forum to speak. We need to have roundtables here in St. Louis to talk about education and the awesome programs working to impact education. Sherita is making sure more forums for conversations are open, but people interested in chatting about education need to attend. The best collaborations and ideas can come out of the most unexpected places.

At our coffee chat, Sherita and I talked about some of the needs in the St. Louis area. We talked about assumptions, college readiness (& awareness), education diversity, parent advocacy, transition planning, volunteering, etc. We also talked about cool stuff happening around the St. Louis area to affect education. One such cool thing is the organization Sherita co-founded with another great educator: GLAMM. This is just one of the many cool projects and programs happening around the area. See how you can get involved!

There will be plenty of upcoming conversations about education happening in St. Louis. I’ll post about them here, but would love to see you there! Education is everyone’s right and everyone’s responsibility. Think about how you can make a change in someone’s education. It may be small to you, but huge to them.

Free Knowledge, Inquire Within

You use Wikipedia. But did you know it’s not just good for giving you fingertip access to factoids? The movement is much more than that. There are some pretty big goals.

Sometimes we take access to to quality, bias-free information for granted. Not everyone in the world has that luxury. But you can help make a change.

Get involved
Anyone can. You don’t have to be an expert or a jack-of-all-trades. You can start by cleaning up grammar on existing articles. Or take on bigger tasks.

If you haven’t watched the video above, do. It sounds so silly, but I get so excited when I think about how much information is given and received each day. What a gift! Donate today to give the gift of knowledge to everyone.

To find out more about all things wiki, come join me and others at the St. Louis Wiknic on July 10.

Critical Thinking from NPR

Note:  Although these stories were on NPR on Friday, this post was a process over a few days due to one evil sinus infection. 🙂

The first news item that struck me was about a Spanish Lake documentary.  A former resident was making a documentary about Spanish Lake.  The main focus was about race and why St. Louis remains so divided. Here is a KETC piece on Spanish Lake from a few years ago.

Last month even I saw a BBC Story about St. Louis Divided.  BBC.  The BBC is writing about our small city and our racial division. We’ve made the news, folks, but not in a good way.

Spending much of my life in St. Louis, the division is evident.  The inequality is there. I have had close family friends of non-white heritage harassed for driving through upper-class neighborhoods. It’s heartbreaking and embarrassing.

How in St. Louis are we going to get beyond this stigma?  It’s not this or that race moving into the neighborhood.  There are people who do crime in all races.

Let’s focus on crime.  What motivates crime? Is this person angry, greedy, or maybe just hungry? Needs to pay the rent? We need to look further into what motivates individuals to do crime; was this crime just because or maybe because of family needs.  Crime might be more prevalent in one particular race because the majority works hard to put them there.  We work hard at our prejudice in St. Louis to be sure fewer African Americans and other minority races have fewer good paying jobs.  Fewer housing opportunities. Less educational opportunities because there are fewer tax dollars to pay to schools, parents are always working and not able to focus on homework help, students might have to eventually work too shifting focus away from school. Etc. Etc.

This is a cycle.  If we keep doing what we’re doing or do nothing, this will continue.  It might get worse, but certainly it will not get better.

Second item to catch my attention was about bullying and even a new documentary about bullying.  The one way other students can combat bullying is to not give the bully an audience and even advocate for the student being bullied.  It is difficult to be the one to speak out, but sometimes it can make a huge difference.

I am glad schools are taking bullying more seriously now than they did when I was in school.  Many times administrators and teachers would turn the other cheek to me being bullied, physically and verbally, and then I’d get in trouble for standing up to the bullies, physically and verbally, while they got away with it.

I even took up a habit of standing up for other students who were being bullied.  The bullies backed off. The students acted like I’d done something amazing.  Why shouldn’t we stand up for others?

To me, bullying was dumb.  Why not just be friends? Was that so strange of a concept?

My daughter is now in kindergarten and experiencing the first tastes of bullying.  Is she the bully? No. The victim? No. She’s the advocate.  I am so proud of my outspoken, stubborn little 6 year-old for standing up for those other girls and asking the bully why she says mean things.  I was so happy the day she came home from school frustrated because a girl who said “not nice things” to other girls wanted to be Kari’s friend, and Kari just wasn’t comfortable with that on account of her actions.  No, not happy because she didn’t know how to navigate the social waters even we struggle with in adulthood, but because she at 6 years-old knew what was right, recognized the wrong, and wanted to stand up for the other person.  This is what will change bullying.  Teaching advocacy and that it’s ok to say you’re not ok with the behaviors of others.

Help Find Jeff’s Phone!

Jeff's Phone is in Arnold, MO

My friend Jeff went to breakfast at Uncle Bill’s in St. Louis this morning and left his iPhone on his table.  Someone picked it up and took it home!  It is somewhere in the above circle thanks to Mobile Me.  PLEASE repost, tweet or update your status message with a link to my blog post.  With as many friends as I have in this region, I’d hope we could track this phone down!