Washington Lawyer - August/September 2018 - 24
Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald/AP Images
Children enjoy lunches provided by the Brownsville Independent School District at the Oliveira Park gymnasium in Brownsville, Texas. The local
school district provides free lunches to any child under 18 who needs a meal, regardless of their status as a student in the school district.
Finally, demographic and economic factors have played a causal role in
school integration, and now resegregation. Early successes in the 1970s in
narrowing the gap between the rich and poor have been replaced by concentrated poverty and the dilution of the middle class. That gap has its origins
not in schools but in housing, say authorities, noting that housing segregation
in many major cities leads to school discrimination.
"This is not about saying black children need white children," says Andre M.
Perry, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the
Brookings Institution. "That is not the issue. What is the issue is that black and
brown communities don't get the resources they deserve because of these
vestiges of discrimination that are school district lines and school zones."
ERASING BARRIERS TO EDUCATION
The evidence of the importance of those lines in determining economic
and racial integration is most obvious in recent efforts by white neighborhoods
to try to secede from larger urban school systems to form their own districts.
The geography of segregation is not relegated to one region, either. More than
70 communities have tried to secede from their school districts since 2000, and
two-thirds of them have been successful at cutting ties.
Clearly, the nation's continuing racial segregation woes cannot be ascribed
to socioeconomic disparities alone. Achievement gaps are impacted by other
factors, including the availability of early childhood education, the quality of
public schools, and state education and government social policies. However,
one might argue that all these factors are exacerbated by income inequality.
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Perry believes there is little appetite for the hard choices that come with
tackling racial and socioeconomic isolation in schools, especially if the answer
includes challenging entrenched and contentious political issues such as
integration of housing markets and redrawing of school district borders.
"People have given up on the idea of integration," Perry says. "They generally feel our school districts are what they are and there's no reason to try
to tip the apple cart of school zones. The problem is that our segregated
neighborhoods and boundaries are what cause inequitable funding and
opportunities for our students."
There have been attempts to level the playing field. One of the tools has been
to award state and federal grants to local districts to address the concentration
of poverty. Another tactic has been to advocate for private school options that
give parents more school choices, and a final, increasingly successful initiative
has been to use local enrollment policies to promote equity.
An estimated 4.4 million students - or about 8 percent of the school-age population - learn in some 6,000 school districts and charter networks where
school officials use socioeconomic integration plans for students. In some districts, administrators are using controlled-choice integration to desegregate
schools. They have adopted lotteries for student-building assignments and
established quotas for low-income and higher-income students.
"I am encouraged that a growing number of school districts are recognizing
it's extremely difficult to make high-poverty schools work on scale," Kahlenberg
of the Century Foundation says. "There are always going to be individual