Wednesday, April 11, 2018
North Carolina used to be remarkable for achieving the most integrated and stable schools in the nation. Save a couple of small exceptions, the state ran its school systems on a county-wide basis, which allowed more integrated, less white flight, and more shared interests in support of public education. This structure alone made North Carolina stand out. And this structure helped facilitate some of the lowest racial achievement gaps in the nation in places like Raleigh.
In the last decade, the state legislature has proven bound and determined to undo it all. First were budget cuts in excess of 20%. Next was the enormous growth of charters. Next was the attempt to eliminate teacher tenure. Next was a voucher program. Next was a change in the appointment process of statewide education officials, with the point being to deprive the new Democratic governor of the authority to begin reversing regressive policies.
Now the state is aiming at the lynchpin of equality and integration--the county wide school system structure. Without it, the entire education system could disintegrate into a thousand isolated pockets. See Pennsylvania's 500-plus school districts and 33% funding gap between districts for a glimpse of how disastrous this can be.
Bloomberg News offer a short summary of what is on the table in North Carolina:
On April 4, a little-known legislative committee met for the fourth time in six weeks in downtown Raleigh, N.C. Although its name is dull and obscure—the Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units—its mission is anything but. The committee is the front line of a legislative push, led by statehouse Republicans, to dismantle North Carolina’s big countywide school districts by allowing rich, often white suburbs to secede.
Though it has no law allowing school secession, North Carolina is the latest Southern state looking to resegregate what’s left of the region’s integrated public schools. More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling made school racial segregation unconstitutional, school secession has been gaining momentum across the South, with richer areas trying to wall their kids and tax dollars off from big districts in Atlanta; Dallas; Little Rock, Ark.; Baton Rouge, La.; Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery in Alabama; and Memphis and Chattanooga in Tennessee.
Erika Wilson's article, The New School Segregation, offers a deeper analysis that explains this type of move within a broader context:
The South has a long and sordid history of resisting school desegregation. Yet after a long and vigorous legal fight, by the mid-1980’s, schools in the South eventually became among the most desegregated in the country. An important but often under appreciated tool that aided in the fight to desegregate schools in the South was the strategic use of school district boundary lines. Many school systems in the South deliberately eschewed drawing school district boundary lines around municipalities, and instead drew them around counties. The resulting county-based system of school districts allowed for the introduction of school assignment plans that crossed racially- and economically-segregated municipal boundary lines.
Affluent and predominantly white suburban municipalities in the South are threatening to reverse this progress. They are doing so by seceding from racially diverse county-based school districts and forming their own predominately white and middle-class school districts. The secessions are grounded in the race-neutral language of localism, or the preference for decentralized governance structures. However, localism in this context is threatening to do what Brown v. Board of Education outlawed: return schools to the days of separate and unequal with the imprimatur of state law.
This Article is the first to examine Southern municipal school district secessions and the localism arguments that their supporters advance to justify them. It argues that localism is being used as a race neutral proxy to create segregated school systems that are immune from legal challenge. It concludes by introducing a normative framework to evaluate the legitimacy of the localism justification for Southern school district secessions specifically, and decentralized public education governance structures more broadly.
--on Twitter: Ed Law Prof Blog @DerekWBlack