Despite half a century of law, policy, and growing understanding of the moral and pragmatic justifications for eliminating segregated schools, North Carolina has yet to achieve a fully-integrated public school system, according to a new report.
In the six decades following Brown vs. the Board of Education, demographic shifts, residential segregation patterns, and changing political attitudes have all affected the extent to which schools have been integrated, says a new report from the NC Justice Center’s Education & Law Project.
“Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of schools isolated by race and income in North Carolina’s traditional, inclusive school districts,” said Kris Nordstrom, a contracting analyst with the Education & Law Project and author of the report. “These trends carry important implications for state and local policymakers, as they increasingly consider bills that would further exacerbate school segregation.”
According to the report:
- The number of racially and economically isolated schools has increased;
- Districts’ racial distribution is mixed, but economic segregation is on the rise;
- Large school districts could be doing much more to integrate their schools;
- School district boundaries are still used to maintain segregated school systems;
- Charter schools tend to exacerbate segregation.
Over the past 10 years North Carolina’s school system has become more unequal, not less. In 2006 there were 295 schools where more than 75 percent of the students were persons of color and from low-income families; by 2016, there were 476 such schools. During the same period, the number of traditional schools isolated by both race and income increased by 6 percent. Additionally, every one of the state’s 10 largest districts has become more segregated by income over the past decade – substantially so in many cases. These changes indicate that students from low-income families are becoming increasingly segregated from their higher-income peers. Charter schools have also become increasingly segregated, with some serving primarily students of color, and others serving primarily white students.
Policymakers at every level of government – as well as educators, parents, and community leaders – can turn to several low-cost and no-cost interventions to ensure students can attend schools that better reflect each community’s demographics. During the 2017 session, lawmakers considered and rejected bills to allow mostly-white communities and corporations form exclusive charter schools, and lawmakers should continue to reject any measures that further segregate the state’s school system. Public schools are becoming increasingly segregated by income and the overall level of racial segregation in North Carolina schools remains far too high, the report said.
“Integrated schools lift the performance Black and Lantinx students, as well as students from low-income families – all in all, students, and society at large, benefit from an integrated school system that improves all students’ opportunities for success,” Nordstrom said. “The good news is that integrating our schools is an incredibly low-cost proposition. We could create a much fairer, inclusive, and integrated system of schools by spending just slightly more on student transportation and demonstrating political will. In the end, failure to integrate schools is the much more expensive proposition—financially and morally.”