Wednesday, March 5, 2014

School Districts Secede, Increasing Finance Inequality and Segregation

The resegregation of public schools over the past two and a half decades is not news to most of the readers of this blog.  Numerous reports demonstrate that our public schools are now as racially and socioeconomically segregated as they were when mandatory desegregation began in earnest in the early 1970s.  What may be news is the new trend of "school district secession."  Historically, many of the most effective school desegregation plans covered large school districts in metropolitan areas. Now that those districts have been released from court ordered desegregation, smaller wealthier neighborhoods are attempting to secede from their districts to form their own independent and isolated schools.  Businesweek reports:

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.

A similar move is being pushed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a parent leader of secession comments that "We are tired of basically being a cash cow for the rest of the parish."  If secession occurs, per pupil spending in the Baton Rouge district would drop from $9,635 to $8,870.  The new affluent district would have per pupil expenditures of  $11,686.  In other words, secession would create a $2,000 per pupil gap overnight.  In an average elementary school, this would be the difference of nearly a $1,000,000 a year.

This trend raises important causal questions.  Are these secession movements the lingering effects of school systems that never became substantively unitary?  Are they the result of the "invidious value" that Kevin Brown argues segregation fostered and integration never cured?  (See Has the Supreme Court Allowed the Cure for De Jure Segregation to Replicate the Disease?, 78 Cornell L. Rev. 1 (1992)).  Or are they the result of bringing market ideas to public schools and fomenting the idea that education, rather than a public good, is consumer resource?  I would suspect the trend stems from all three.  In so far as it is connected to the third, it also demonstrates my point in Charters Schools, Voucher, and the Public Good, where I argue that charters and vouchers are not inherently good or bad.  Rather, they are the policies through which good or bad values can flow (most often bad at the moment).  But laws permitting school district secession allow these same bad values to flow through traditional public schools.

For Jan Resseger's analysis of the trend, see here.

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2014/03/school-districts-secede-increasing-finance-inequality-and-segregation.html

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