If you're a third-grader in a different elementary school, you're not going to be all that impressed that the kids at Santa Rosa's French-American Charter School are having kohlrabi or quinoa for lunch.
But as an adult, you know that this represents just one more step in the racial and socio-economic segregation that occurs in Santa Rosa's schools.
Sure, the French school — and all charter schools — are public schools and theoretically they are open to any and all students. But the fact is that any and all students can't and won't go to school there.
Segregation is not a policy or practice of the Santa Rosa City Schools district. But, for several decades now, it has been a growing reality. First it was caused by economic forces; families that lived in poorer neighborhoods sent their kids to schools in those neighborhoods with kids from other families of lesser means. Then it was caused by the school-choice movement, in which parents with the means and desire elected to send their kids across town to schools that had better test scores or more interesting academic programs. And now, with new charter schools popping up with ever-more-focused curriculum or philosophy, the segregation of students becomes even greater.
In the case of the French school, kids will even eat differently than those who go to other schools. As staff writer Brett Wilkison reported on Thursday, the Santa Rosa City Schools board this week approved a plan that will allow the French school to hire a chef and expand the French school's food offerings. The cost of lunch at the French charter will be almost double what kids pay at other district schools.
This isn't a condemnation of the French school, or of any school that attracts students with better test scores or more creative programs. All of those are great things.
Every kid should be so lucky.
But there's the rub. These are public schools, and every kid is not so lucky.
In seven of Santa Rosa's 10 "traditional" elementary schools, more than 85 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to data from 2011 (one of those schools, Doyle Park, was closed last year and replaced with the French-American Charter School). In seven out of those 10 schools, more than half of the students were classified as "English language learners."
This doesn't mean these are bad schools. But it does mean that Santa Rosa is becoming a city with an educational system that is divided. One part of the system educates mostly poor, mostly Latino kids. The other part educates the rest.
That's not how public education is supposed to work.
The imbalance is exacerbated by parent groups that raise additional money for better-off schools, providing funding for extras such as computers, music programs and, in the case of the French school, food. Schools where more than eight out of 10 families are struggling to get by just can't keep up.
This week's decision by the school board was determined more than a year and a half ago when the French school's charter — including the expanded lunch program — was approved by the district. Board members shouldn't be criticized for following through with an effort to create innovative, attractive programs in our public schools.