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Public Urban Boarding Schools: Providing Disadvantaged Youths the Opportunities of the Privileged

Posted: 31 Aug 2010  

Shelaswau Crier

Willamette University College of Law

Date Written: August 31, 2010


All states provide constitutional guarantees regarding state provision of public education, typically requiring the legislature to establish or maintain a system of education that is “thorough and efficient” or “general and uniform.” These provisions have been interpreted as requiring the state to provide some standard of education, often described as adequate, suitable, or sound and basic. The specifics of these standards vary somewhat by state, but the general goal is the provision of educational opportunities to enable all students to participate in society in a meaningful way, or as the Ohio Supreme Court put it, “the opportunity to compete and succeed.” Unfortunately, a sizeable percentage of the country’s children is unable to attain this basic level of education due in large part to negative influences of their home or community environments. This article argues that states can and should fulfill their constitutional duties to these children by providing public urban boarding (“PUB”) schools that provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment, allowing students the opportunity to focus on their education free from the adult concerns that have plagued their daily lives.

The majority of these public boarding school candidates reside in urban areas afflicted with poverty, crime, violence, and low educational attainment among the adult population. Sociological studies indicate that educational achievement is based in large part on home and community situations and influences. Accordingly, even a school with shiny new equipment may not be providing an educational opportunity accessible to the student who is hungry, afraid, or wholly disheartened. Public boarding schools have been present in the United States since the 1800s and have generally been created for special classes of students – deaf, blind, and “gifted.” Native American boarding schools, funded by the federal government since the late 1870s, provide insight on the benefits successfully run boarding schools can provide. Though early Native American boarding schools did considerable harm to students by concertedly stripping them of their cultural identities, Native American boarding schools presently in operation integrate Native American culture and history into the curriculum and have successfully matriculated students from reservations with a 50% graduation rate and the highest suicide and alcoholism rates in the country into competitive four year colleges. Purported reasons for originally establishing the Native American boarding schools included elevating Native Americans to the standards of White Americans and converting the Native American population into “productive members of society.” Though Native American boarding schools may not have been originally created or implemented primarily for the best interests of those children, the goal of provision of educational opportunities, and perhaps even elevation to equal standards, is a correct, proper, and established duty of the state, which today can be fulfilled in part through the addition of public urban boarding schools to the school choice landscape.

The argument for PUB schools begins with an examination of empirical data regarding the characteristics of the urban boarding school candidate and explores why other approaches such as longer school days or afterschool tutoring programs are insufficient. The article goes on to explain why a public boarding school is the appropriate tool for providing this particular class of students their state constitutionally guaranteed level of education and articulates the value to the state of establishing such schools in the urban area with the most need. Such benefits include uplifting that community and retaining the investment in these students by making them contributing role models, who as students and adults can become empowered to positively affect their communities rather than being victims of or merely escaping from them. Finally, the article explores the efficacy of various avenues that may be utilized when advocating for PUB schools, specifically litigation and legislation. This analysis focuses on the possible outcomes and impacts of cases that could be brought on behalf of these students under adequacy arguments and explores tactics such as political and community coalition building, providing specific approaches legislatures and advocates can consider when evaluating and establishing PUB schools.

Keywords: Boarding School, Public, Residential School, Public Boarding School, Public Residential School, Urban, Education

Suggested Citation

Crier, Shelaswau, Public Urban Boarding Schools: Providing Disadvantaged Youths the Opportunities of the Privileged (August 31, 2010). Available at SSRN:

Shelaswau Crier (Contact Author)

Willamette University College of Law ( email )

Salem, OR 97301
United States
503-370-6840 (Phone)

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