Police in the Rochester, New York, suburb of Greece recently arrested, jailed and delivered in chains to a local courthouse a 33-year-old brown-skinned woman named Yolanda Miranda, also known as Yolanda Hill. A judge read the charge of grand larceny and set Hill’s bail at $25,000. Her alleged crime? Using her mother’s suburban address and enrolling her children in the Greece public schools while living about nine miles away in Rochester.
She told reporters outside the courthouse she was just trying to “get the best for my kids.” Her teenage daughter, Santazcha, who sat in the front row at her mother’s arraignment, added, “My mom only did what was right because she loved us. She’s not a criminal.”
In keeping with our purported “postracial” era, local commentators ignored the matters of race, class and inequality at the center of this case, framing it instead in the language of law and order. Woman Arrested in School Scam Appears in Court, read a headline in the Democrat and Chronicle. The paper even provided Greece’s citizens a phone number to report other cases of suspected “larceny.”
Rochester’s demographics are similar to every big-city school district’s; only 12 percent of its students are white. Next door, in Greece, 83 percent of the students are white. In Rochester, 71 percent of students qualify for free lunch, the marker of poverty in public education. This makes Rochester the second-poorest school system in New York. By comparison, in Greece, 20 percent of the students are poor.
Greece educators had reportedly hired a private investigator and sent him after Hill and other urban parents who’d done the same thing. The taxpayer-supported sleuth will continue to trail mothers and fathers suspected of trying to cross the line and “steal” from the town, according to press reports.
Greece and Rochester spend similar amounts per pupil–some $12,000 vs. $14,000 in 2006. And both districts, like other communities, face budget problems. This is where similarities end. Rochester’s schools have all the features of overwhelmed social institutions, beset by extreme poverty, racial isolation and attendant low performance. Students in Rochester consistently score below the state average on achievement measures. Meanwhile, in Greece, 81 percent of fourth graders recently met the proficiency standards on state tests in math and 74 percent met them in English language arts, above the state average.
The schools reflect the inequalities outside them. The median home value in Greece is $123,658. In Rochester, just up the road, the median home value plummets to $69,100. More than a decade ago, a private marketing group analyzed impediments to fair housing in Monroe County, where Rochester and Greece are located. Not surprisingly, it found housing choices for racial minorities “severely” restricted. The vast majority of the county’s public and assisted housing–all but 100 of its 2,494 units–is in Rochester. The report concluded that “minorities experience mortgage denial rates which are from two to three times greater than those for White applicants. This disparity persists across all income levels.”