Racial segregation is a reality across the South and across America’s big cities. In Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch quotes the data: “80 percent of Latino students and 74 percent of black students attend majority-nonwhite schools. Forty-three percent of Latinos and 38 percent of black students attend intensely segregated schools, where fewer than 20 percent of students are white… Half of the more than sixteen hundred schools in New York City are more than 90 percent black and Hispanic. Half of the black students in Chicago and one-third of the black students in New York City attend apartheid schools.” (p. 292)
Segregation by income has also grown enormously since 1970. Stanford University educational sociologist Sean Reardon documents that the proportion of families in major metropolitan areas living in either very poor or very affluent neighborhoods increased from 15 percent in 1970 to 33 percent by 2009, and the proportion of families living in middle income neighborhoods declined from 65 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2009.
While the extent of segregation is deplorable 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is well documented and not surprising. Last week, however, Businessweek reported what it says may be becoming a new trend that will accelerate resegregation across school districts in the South that have been released from desegregation court orders. According to Businessweek, “About half of the almost 500 districts under desegregation orders in 1990 were released by 2009…” These districts have been awarded what is known as unitary status, by which the court releases them from oversight because they are said to have done all they were able to do to integrate their schools.
In several metropolitan areas, wealthy neighborhoods of large school districts are now simply seceding—pulling out to form their own small, exclusive, white school districts. “In Alabama, which makes it relatively easy to create districts, two Birmingham suburbs have left the countywide system in the past two years. After the majority-black Memphis schools merged last year with the majority-white county district, Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature lifted a decades-old ban on creating new systems, and six suburbs seceded, approving sales tax increases to pay for their schools. Parent groups in Atlanta and Dallas are considering similar proposals.”
Businessweek‘s story last week is about parents in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. Parents supporting an effort called “Local Schools for Local Children,” including parents whose children have been attending private, segregated academies, want to take their tax dollars and pull out of the “42,000-student school district they share with mostly black neighborhoods nearby, where many families live in poverty.” Whether the parents in Baton Rouge will be able to form their own exclusive school district remains in question because the Louisiana general assembly has not yet approved the enabling legislation. Persistent parents are working to form a separate town in order to help their chances.
“‘It’s going to devastate us,’ says Tania Nyman, who has two elementary-age children in Baton Rouge magnet schools. ‘They’re not only going to take the richer white kids out of the district, they are going to take their money out of it.’” According to a research report from a local university, per-pupil spending in Baton Rouge would drop from $9,635 to $8,870. According to the Businessweek reporter, this would be “a painful cut in a district where 82 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or subsidized school meals. In the breakaway district, spending would rise to $11,686 per student.”