Washington Lawyer - August/September 2018 - 22
"People have given
up on the idea of
generally feel our
school districts are
what they are and
there's no reason to
try to tip the apple
cart of school zones."
Carl Iwasaki/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
ANDRE M. PERRY
Linda Brown (left) with her parents, Leola and Oliver, and little sister Terry Lynn in
front of their house in Topeka, Kansas.
"If we're not more aggressive in combatting economic segregation, we will
have further entrenched class divisions in this country, and the American dream
of doing better economically than your parents will be lost," says Richard D.
Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive, nonpartisan policy group. "We will see a calcified and rigid class divide."
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C.-based liberal think
tank, estimates that half of America's children live in high-poverty school
districts, and those districts often border areas where more affluent students
benefit from greater funding. In 2016, among all public schools, some
40 percent of students of color were in high-poverty schools.
"Economic integration is a serious issue, and policymakers really underestimate
how significant a problem it is," says Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at CAP who
has studied the issue. "Many, many districts across the country see this as an
incredibly pressing concern, and it has become a place where we see large
amounts of isolation. Our gap in incomes and housing policy encourage this
type of isolation."
In fact, the pervasiveness of economic disparities is so embedded in local
communities that it has contributed to institutional prejudices and what some
call an economic caste system in school districts. The median wealth of white
households in 2016 was $171,000, compared to $17,000 for black households
22 WASHINGTON LAWYER
and $20,600 for Hispanic households, according to the Pew Research Center.
Wealth gaps among upper-income families and lower- and middle-income
families are at the highest levels ever recorded since the Federal Reserve
began collecting this data in 1983.
THE BIRTH OF BROWN
Yet income disparity was not the motivation for Linda Brown's father, the
Reverend Oliver Brown, when he tried to enroll his daughter in September
1950 at an all-white school near their home in Topeka, Kansas. He wanted nineyear-old Linda to attend their neighborhood school rather than see her travel
21 blocks past a rail yard and down a busy road.
In Brown 13 parents filed suit against the Topeka Board of Education in February
1951, hoping to compel school officials to admit their 20 children to any school
in the district regardless of their race. The Topeka board managed a total of
22 schools in 1951 - 18 of which were white only and four were all black.
"My father was like a lot of other black parents here in Topeka at that time,"
Linda Brown said in the 1985 documentary film Eyes on the Prize. "They were
concerned not about the quality of education that their children were receiving,
they were concerned about the amount - or distance - that the child had to
go to receive an education."