The Flint lead/water crisis threw a national spotlight not only on that troubled city but on everyone else’s backyard as well. Cities and municipalities across the country began testing their water to see if lead contamination was present and if so, how damaging it was. In St. Louis it’s the presence of lead, combined with inequality, that is so damaging. Just in time for the new school year, 30 public schools have had their water declared unsafe and shut off. In another school district across town however, Ladue, there will be no such action: the water is just fine. That’s because that school district sells naming rights to wealthy donors. Naming a water fountain after someone costs $3,000. The naming rights are in addition to an “$85 million bond issue to build new schools and update already first-class facilities” passed by voters. In case you were wondering—or not—the St. Louis public school district is 82 percent black; whereas black students represent only 17 percent of the student body in Ladue.
It’s hard to imagine anything more God-awful than children who live in a city in which they go to school and swallow IQ-robbing heavy metal, courtesy of the taxpayers. Meanwhile, children mere blocks away get donor-inscribed water fountains in hallways paved with engraved bricks (that will be $350, please).
This division, by race and by class, is generational, and it’s not unique to St. Louis. Last week, the nonprofit EdBuild published a list of the 50 most segregated school-district borders in the nation, as defined by demographic differences such as poverty level, median home prices and school funding. Accompanying St. Louis on the list were districts from all over the country, including Detroit’s city schools and their border with Grosse Point, and Birmingham, Ala., and its border with Vestavia Hills. In both the Michigan and Alabama examples, the difference in poverty between the bordering districts is more than 40 percent. [...]
In 2014, more than 3,000 children in St. Louis were found to have lead levels high enough to potentially cause developmental delays. Much of this lead problem has been thought to be related to lead-based paint in the city’s older housing stock. But the water at the schools had never been tested.
Like most school districts across the country, the property-tax system funds school districts. Not much will be done about that anytime soon. The state had an opportunity though, back in the late 1960s, when it was proposed that St. Louis have one unified school district, instead of 24. Folks in power didn’t jump on it then. No sign that they are anywhere close to doing so now.