Jeff McKay didn’t mince words when discussing racial, social and economic inequity in Fairfax County.
“There are different opportunities in this county depending on where you live and depending on what school you go to,” said the Lee District supervisor.
Hybla Valley Elementary in Mount Vernon is by many measures the most equity-challenged elementary school in Fairfax County. Fully 90 percent of students are poor, that is qualify for “free and reduced meals;” 48.7 percent of students are limited English proficient. While 80 percent of students are Latino, just 2.4 percent are white.
Less than four miles away, at Waynewood Elementary School, also in Mount Vernon, the story is different. There are very few poor students; just 2.1 percent qualify for subsidized meals. White students make up 87 percent of the students body; 1.8 percent are Black; 4.46 percent are Latino. Just 3.4 percent of students have limited proficiency in English.
On the other side of the county, many elementary schools in McLean, Great Falls and Vienna have a tiny percentage of poor children; less than one percent in some cases.
At Churchill Road Elementary School in McLean, there are almost no students poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals; 0.82 percent; just 8.8 percent of students are limited English proficient. 51 percent of students are white, 32 percent Asian, 2.47 percent Black and 7 percent Latino.
At Wolftrap Elementary in Vienna, there are also almost no poor students with just 1.22 percent poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals. White students make up 71.25 percent of students; 8.8 percent of students are Latino; 13.2 percent are Asian. Less than one percent are Black.
But in Herndon, at Hutchison Elementary, 78 percent of students are poor. The same percentage, 78, of students are poor at Dogwood Elementary in Reston.
THIS MONTH, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board passed a joint resolution called “One Fairfax: a community where everyone can participate and prosper.” The idea is to address inequity in opportunities across the county.
“This puts it in writing, makes it deliberate and sends a strong message to our community that our leadership in this county believes strongly in equity, in social justice and in One Fairfax, where no matter where you are born, no matter what neighborhood you happen to grow up in, you have equal opportunity to succeed,” said McKay.
The policy passed by the two boards directs the development of a racial and social equity policy and strategic actions to advance opportunities and achieve equity that includes intentional collective leadership, community engagement, equity tools and infrastructure to support and sustain systemic changes, and shared accountability.
“We don’t have the opportunities we need for all people in the county. And we talk about that in the context of everything from career and technical education, to preschool,” said Braddock Supervisor John Cook.
“We have had community members who have worked for a long time to figure out how to bring this to the forefront of the board,” said Hunter Mill Supervisor Catherine Hudgins.
“It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Dranesville Supervisor John W. Foust.
“I can think of no more important statement that we can make at this time, at any time, to our community,” said McKay.
“You know if you don’t have access to services you’re not going to have outcomes for the child or adult,” said Deputy County Executive Pat Harrison.
THE BOARD DEBATED the joint resolution at its meeting on July 12.
“If you don’t have the right opportunities, you’re not going to improve the outcomes. And that’s the fundamental question we are asking ourselves here,” said McKay.
“This all sounds really good, and the discussion is all really good. The devil really is in the details,” said Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity (R).
“I think we need to do a better job at measuring the effectiveness of the programs and services. That’s part of what I’m getting at,” he said.
“How do you define the lens of equity?” he asked.
The last few years, the county implemented several initiatives to address disparities in a variety of areas including juvenile justice, education, employment, self sufficiency, health and child welfare.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success. School leadership and community representatives “identified racial and social equity as an integral component to improving educational and life outcomes for youth,” according to county documents.
“Linking people to opportunities including workforce development, education, employment and affordable housing helps ensure lifelong learning, resilience, and economic success,” according to county documents.
Lynbrook Elementary and Sangster Elementary are both in Springfield, and are less than 7 miles apart. But the distance in demographics is massive. Lynbrook’s students are 85 percent poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals and 72 percent of them are limited in English proficiency; less than 3 percent of students are White; 83 percent are Latino.
At Sangster, only 2.4 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals; only 3.6 percent are limited in English proficiency; two-thirds are White.
“Racial gaps in wages have grown over the past decade. From 2000 to 2012, White workers saw their median hourly wage increase significantly, while Latinos and Blacks experienced slight wage declines,” according to county documents. “People of color earn lower wages than Whites at every education level. Wages rise with education, but gaps by race remain.”
Hunter Mill Supervisor Hudgins says “it’s taken a long time” to get this far.
“Now we have the harder part of putting the policy together and hoping it can work well throughout all of our agencies and all of our communities and in a way that the community can understand what we are trying to do.”