In 2017, it is easy to look back on Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s 1963 “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” speech and think of it as a relic of days gone by—an era in which backward thinking would ultimately give way to progress. Except sadly, several decades later and 63 years after the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional, it seems as if Wallace had a point after all. A new report released this week determined that the number of black students in the South attending “intensely segregated” schools is on the rise, up 56 percent from 1980.
A report released this week by UCLA's Civil Rights Project and Penn State University's Center for Education and Civil Rights finds that in 2014, more than one in three black students attended a school in the South that was intensely racially segregated, meaning a school where 90 percent of students were racial minorities—a 56 percent rise from 1980. The report also finds that the number of Latino students enrolled in public schools in the South surpassed black enrollment for the first time ever, making up 27 percent of the student body. That's significant, as the percentage of Latino students in the South attending an intensely racially segregated school is also on the rise—42 percent in 2014, up from 37 percent in 1980.
Research often touts that younger generations (millennials in particular) are defined by their diversity. However, this report notes that the typical public school student is facing a decrease in exposure to races other than their own. And as is to be expected, poverty also plays a huge role in segregated schools as black, Latino and low-income students have been more exposed to poverty than their white and Asian peers, particularly over the last decade.
While the problem is getting much worse in the South, it's far from confined to the region. Last year, a US Government Accountability Office report concluded that nationally the number of high-poverty public schools—or those where at least 75 percent of students were black or Hispanic and at least 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-lunch—more than doubled between 2001 and 2014. The GAO report also found that the country saw a nationwide rise in the percentage of schools separated by race and class, from 9 percent to 16 percent, in the past decade and a half. These stats are further supported by a new report released on Thursday by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, which finds that black and Latino students in the 2014-2015 school year disproportionately attended high-poverty schools; while 8 percent of white students attended high-poverty schools across the country, nearly half of black and Hispanic students did so.
Don’t let the math confuse you. Essentially, numbers from both the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Education say the same thing—black and Latino kids are more likely to attend high-poverty schools, no matter where they are in the country. And this has tremendous implications for their future as those schools are often under resourced. For decades, this mattered little to conservatives who were happy to leave black and brown children in failing schools in their own neighborhoods. Enter Betsy DeVos. While Betsy clearly didn’t start the school choice movement, she represents yet another reason why touting school choice as national policy could further endanger minority kids and put them at even greater risk. After all, what’s been happening in a number of places around the country is that communities have chosen to break away from larger school districts in order to form smaller, whiter and wealthier ones. Coupled with that are the growth of charter schools which seem to enroll less and less white kids each year—increasing the patterns of school segregation.
So, as the Trump administration doubles down on an investment in promoting school choice nationally—at the expense of after-school programs, subsidized loans, and other deep proposed cuts—the report recommends state officials not let communities break away from school districts and suggests policymakers ensure school-choice programs are implemented in such ways that encourage integration. Unfettered choice without careful design could lead to further segregation, just like it did in the South decades ago and, more recently, in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' home state of Michigan.
School segregation is not new and it is a huge issue across the country—one that is only poised to get worse under Betsy DeVos’s watch. Of course, this is exactly what Trump and his team wanted and they have no plans to stop it. Despite some areas of progress when it comes to race, it seems as if George Wallace might have given us some indication of the future in this regard.