I have never been much of a fan of school uniform policies. It really has very little do with anything productive being done in the schools (especially considering that the the main focus is usually at the elementary school level). It’s more a bone to throw to an element of parents and the public that looks at schools as a place to fight out something like the Culture Wars. (To me, the definitive guide to this issue is The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us about American Education: A Symbolic Crusade – David L. Brunsma.)

One of the stumbling blocks for school uniforms is the issue of whether it imposes financial hardship on parents. In the New Jersey district described in this New York Times article, School District Has Dress Code, and Is Buying the Uniforms, Too, this issue has been stood on its head. The School District has turned this obstacle into a supposed benefit of the policy, not just to mandate a particular kind of clothing, but to provide the clothing as a perk.

This is a problem at two levels. One issue is the cost and another issue is the appropriate function of school.

The cost is stated as $2 million so far. At the same time, school authorities blithefully assure parents that “it wasn’t money being taken away from instruction.” What? This money is being taken from the general fund for the District. Anything taken out of this fund by definition cannot be used for anything that could be funded like instruction. What exactly would they have done with the $2 million otherwise? Rebate it to the State of New Jersey or buy TV ads to explain what a great job they are doing? In a time when education groups constantly complain about being underfunded, what does something like this say?

The other issue concerns the function of the school. A school is a special purpose government agency. Not many people would consider schools as a whole to be completely successful in their more traditional educational role. Scope creep beyond this is inappropriate especially when you consider the availability of an existing social welfare apparatus extending from the Federal to the County levels and on to private efforts. Schools should definitely cooperate with these other services, but the focus for the schools should be on accomplishing their specific educational goals.

Note: WCCUSD is mentioned in this article as spending $49,000 from its budget last year.