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If you ever wondered if a poor mother cares about her child as much as a rich parent does, ride a poor child's school bus and find out.

As the bus tours rundown neighborhoods and reaches public housing, notice the parents gathered on the corner waiting for their children. See their arms reach out. See them walk their children home.Yes, they care, just as much as the moms and dads at the classroom door when the school bell rings. But they can't be there. They might not own a car. They might have other children at home.

Parental involvement is the key to education. Though lots of parents will go the extra mile to make a difference when their children are bused across town, some can't, and some won't. Education suffers.

If Americans of all colors could have lived together from the start, every school would be a neighborhood school. That's not the case in so many cities.

Waco has been out from under court-ordered desegregation orders for five years now. Other cities are testing their footing after a quarter century of court control. Denver was relieved of court-ordered desegregation Sept. 13.

These communities are facing the question: Are neighborhood schools worth resegregation? The short answer is yes. The long answer is: Unless neighborhood schools are part of the equation, inner city will continue to crumble.

Increasing numbers of minorities are saying this because they know what they see. Busing has not helped urban schools or cities.

Short-term, neighborhood schools do sound like retrenchment. But in the long haul - say a quarter century - they can make neighborhoods livable again.

This is a two-pronged issue. The first, of course, is educating the child. Busing can place a child in a good classroom, but when the child is displaced from home across interstates and waterways, parental participation suffers. The parents of the "bus children" won't be there as room parents or PTA officers. They can't have a meaningful, ongoing face-to-face exchange with teachers.

Ultimately, however, the biggest imperative to neighborhood schools transcends school. The imperative is urban survival. In many school districts, using busing as a tourniquet to deal with bleeding has strangled off many sections of many cities.

To the extent that neighborhood schools would be retrenchment amid structural segregation, the difference they could make in each neighborhood would be a blow against the structure - the notion that only poor people live here, and only until they can afford to run.