Crowded schools do not equal a quality education for our children

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2004

The American dream is built on the foundation of acquiring a good education, and access to a good public school system still drives many of our decisions about where to live. These days, growing populations demand more school capacity -either building new schools or expanding existing ones.

In some high-growth areas of Virginia, development has outpaced school capacity. The result: crowded schools and portable classrooms. Local officials have few options. State law and standard practice limit the size of classrooms, and so schools cannot simply fill auditoriums with large numbers of students.

This is an old problem, and this year we have a new approach that offers hope for reasonable people. A bill goes to the General Assembly that will give local governments the authority to defer residential development if there aren’t enough seats in the schools to accommodate the influx of new students. If it passes, it would give high-growth communities another option to assure adequate school capacity before allowing unchecked residential development.


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Other states have already passed similar Adequate Capacity ordinances. But if the past history of such bills holds true, it will never reach a vote. It will be sent to a subcommittee, and it will die there.

Our children deserve better. In my home town of Suffolk, here’s what crowded schools have caused: high school senior Anna Baxley says she didn’t receive a quality education; parents say their children now have to eat lunch at 10 in the morning; and educators say they’re simply facility managers, not teachers. Too often, portable trailers serve as class rooms.

Reasonable people say: let’s not build until there are seats in the school, or let’s ask developers to wait until a new school is built. But will developers postpone their new subdivision voluntarily? Not likely. And no city or county can make them wait for the new school, not without authority from the General Assembly.

Parents, school administrators, teachers, and others have recognized for some time that crowded schools do not provide a quality educating for our children.

We’ve heard it said many times, and we all know it to be true: Our children are our future. But what kind of future do they face without a good education?

Thomas Jefferson believed that this young nation’s survival as an independent democracy absolutely depended upon its success in educating the people. While Governor of Virginia in 1779 he proposed the first statewide school system in the New World.

Education impacts every facet of our lives.

We buy our homes in good school districts, and businesses look for a quality workforce even before they consider taxes. Our ability to compete in the highly competitive global market depends on education. And there would be no &uot;quality&uot; in our quality of life without education. Education should rightly be a top priority for every citizen of Virginia.

So if education is so important, why don’t cities and counties say &uot;wait&uot; to residential development when schools are full? Because cities and counties must be given authority to say &uot;wait&uot; by the General Assembly. When our state senators and delegates meet in Richmond, I ask that you voice your opinion in support of this new bill. If our legislators hear that message enough times from enough reasonable people, I believe they will give the school capacity bill the consideration it deserves.

In the past, many localities opened their doors to the benefits of growth, but they soon realized that such growth comes with costs – schools become crowded, roads become congested, and the quality of life suffers. The School Capacity Ordinance is a remedy that makes sense.

E. Dana Dickens III is mayor of Suffolk.