The Transylvania Times -

Re-segregating Our Schools

 

June 11, 2018



It has been 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that school districts had to take steps to integrate their schools.

Throughout the South, whites who refused to send their children to school with black children opened up small private schools, often under the guise of being Christian schools. However, most public schools were successfully integrated.

There were racial incidents at almost every school, but considering the turbulence of the time – the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., riots in cities, increasing opposition to the Vietnam War, etc. – and the enormity of integrating schoolchildren from two races who had little to no previous contact with one another, the transition was astonishingly smooth. Over the following decades integration became the norm.

But in the past few years, efforts to segregate school children have returned, and this time with the financial assistance of the North Carolina General Assembly. This re-segregation is more nuanced, falling more along socio-economic lines than racial lines. However, since blacks and Hispanics are generally lower on the financial ladder than whites, this new segregation has racial underpinnings.

The first step toward re-segregating schools came with lifting the cap on charter schools. Charter schools were created under the auspices of being innovative schools freed from the constraints of traditional guidelines in the hope that through experimentation they would provide solutions that would be applicable to most public schools. And, quite importantly, their student population had to reflect the general student population. Neither one of these tenets applies today. Most new charter schools are controlled by national organizations that are more adept at recruiting good students than being innovative. And they only have to “attempt” to reflect the overall student population, which means they can subtly minimize the number of academically challenged students. Very few charter schools reflect the overall student population in terms of race, ethnicity, special needs or economic class.

The General Assembly then followed by allowing low-income students to use vouchers to attend private schools. Many of these vouchers go to parochial schools whose student bodies frequently do not reflect the overall population.

In an effort to make it easier for children of all income levels to attend private schools, the General Assembly recently passed legislation that will now allow families to use money in their 529 education savings plans to send their children to private K-12 schools. The 529 plans were originally created to assist families in saving money for college by allowing the 529 investment plans to grow tax-free. The latest change in North Carolina law allows families to withdraw up to $10,000 from a 529 plan to pay for K-12 education. Since most people who can afford to put money into a 529 plan tend to be white and wealthier, this plan provides them an incentive to send their children to private schools.

The latest decision that will promote further re-segregation came when the General Assembly passed House Bill 514, which would allow four predominantly white and wealthier municipalities in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system to not only use municipal taxes to support their local schools but also to create their own charter schools. This will allow those municipalities to spend more taxpayers’ money for the benefit of white, wealthier students while simultaneously draining taxpayers’ money that supports those children who already are at a disadvantage.

Many parents send their children to charter or private schools because they believe those schools to be safer and better able to meet their children’s needs. But there are also those who do not want their children to associate with others deemed beneath them. And the state should not sanction legislation that provides more benefits to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

The ultimate result, if this trend continues, will be more money for schools attended by mostly wealthy and white students and less money for schools attended by mostly poor and often black or brown students.

We all want what is best for our own children. But we all should want what is best for every child. Re-segregating our schools will make it more difficult to achieve those goals, and our state will suffer.

 
 

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