When Cities Stand Up for Their Children

When Cities Stand Up for Their Children

If one takes a look at most of the charters of Florida’s cities, one won’t find much, if any, mention of public health.

The way our governments are structured here, public health is a state and county issue (counties acting largely, though not exclusively, as implementers of state policy). Cities don’t have much authority other than what arises from providing EMS and emergency management services.

If cities have little authority in the area of public health, they have even less in the area of public education. Florida’s county-based, single-purpose school boards hold all the local power and all the resources when it comes to public education.

So, if one is looking for grants of authority for cities to address these two critical areas, one won’t find them . . . at least not in Florida.

While good organizational design marries authority and responsibility, reality often fails to match the model.

City officials, of course, feel a sense of responsibility for their citizens’ well-being that does not respect lines of authority. We may not have been tasked with public health and public education, but we reap whatever challenges are sown there.

So, from time to time, one or another city takes extraordinary steps to intervene in these critical areas of community life. Because, after all, they are city issues, no matter what the organizational chart may say.

The City of Orlando last week launched “Stand Up Orlando,” an anti-bullying campaign aimed at middle school kids attending schools inside the city.  This initiative adds to after-school programs and the city’s “Super Kids” bullying prevention program in fifth grade.

The program is a partnership, uniting the Orange County schools, the city, and a number of for-profit and not-for-profit partners to provide tools and skills, not only to middle-school kids, but to their teachers, counselors and after-school program coordinators.

Why would a city do what some would argue is the school system’s job?

Because bullying in schools is associated with some serious social consequences. Scholars have documented that being bullied increases the risk of dropping out of school before graduation, that being bullied as well as engaging in bullying behavior in school is associated with a range of mental health problems in adulthood, and that such school-age experiences may lay the foundation for continuing victimization and domineering behavior.

This isn’t the first time a Florida city has gotten heavily involved in education. More than a dozen cities run charter schools. The City of St. Petersburg, beginning with Mayor Rick Baker, has built and sustained a powerful presence in its schools, including mentoring, college scholarships, facilities improvements, and internship opportunities. I’m sure there are more examples.

Cities in Florida may not be tasked with meeting the educational needs of our children, but that really doesn’t matter. Cities are founded to meet the needs of residents. What greater need could there be than for a safe place to learn and a chance to develop into an adult who, in turn, can stand up for the next generation of children?