Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

QUALITY OF LIFE; the Underclass Issue

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

QUALITY OF LIFE; the Underclass Issue

Article excerpt

For most citizens, Jacksonville is a wonderful place to live.

To keep it that way, the community needs to deal with an underclass that is poorly educated and has little hope in the future.

There is no better summary of challenges than the new Quality of Life Progress Report from Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

JCCI's annual report has become a valuable tool to use to chart progress in Jacksonville and prioritize challenges. It has been copied by many groups throughout the nation.

The problems of the underclass can be viewed through their isolated high rates of crime, low rates of employment, high rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy, high rates of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

This can be summed up with a widespread sense of hopelessness.

The way out is through education. Mayor John Peyton said that education is the purest form of economic incentive.

Yet, only one-third of 10th-grade students read at grade level. High school dropout rates are too high and getting worse. And about 40 percent of public schools are poor and thus qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Most of the educational challenges take place in the public schools, where about 40 percent of the students are black. About 15 percent of Jacksonville's students attend private schools, about 2 percent are home-schooled. Students on the college prep track, especially in magnet schools, are on a fast track to success. But many others are facing a literacy crisis that threatens their future.

That is why education is the emphasis of the Quality of Life study, chaired this year by Steve Wallace, president of Florida Community College at Jacksonville.

"Education is the most important single predictor of success for an individual and a community," Wallace said.

If education is the solution for many of the community's ills, race is a constant thread, as well. The latest scientific survey of Jacksonville adults showed that 59 percent say that racism is a problem in Duval County. …

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