Policy Changes May Undo Integration in NC School System

January 21, 2011 Opinion

Once nationally recognized for its effort to promote equal opportunity in the district, the Wake County school system in Raleigh, North Carolina has now voted to eliminate its 30-year diversity policy.

Instead of implicating a neighborhood school system where the residence of a student determines where he or she attends school, it was the school board policy to increase diversity in schools by balancing the percentage of minority students. Starting a decade ago, the policy was changed to balance the percentage of l o w – i n c o m e students. Students were bused because of a s i g n i f i c a n t distance. This policy helped erase the segregation often found in the neighborhood school system.

However, the county has grown dramatically in the past few years and the poverty rates have grown as well–some levels as high as 70 percent in some schools. Parents have complained that their children are being reassigned constantly and are blaming the diversity goal. Also, the newly elected school board criticized the policy and claimed minority and low income students are receiving poor test scores and low graduation rates. Art Pope, part of the tea party group, Americans For Prosperity, went as far as to say, “If we end up with a concentration of students underperforming academically, it may be easier to reach out to them.”

This decision has sparked much controversy and national attention. The state NAACP gathered over 300 people for a rally to protest the decision, and the organization is trying to bring the issue to the courts. State NAACP President Rev. William Barber argues, “We must fight re-segregation and demand high quality, constitutional, diverse, well-funded education for all our children. We believe this kind of disparity is illegal and must be challenged.”

The issues regarding this situation bring America back to the long-standing controversy of our educational system. The country is divided into school districts, which get the majority of their funds from local property taxes. Usually, students attend the school assigned to them by their residence.

This system, as is, promotes anything but the equal opportunity our country promises. Schools in poorer areas receive less funding, when they could use the most. Unfortunately in our educational system, money does matter and leads to better facilities, teachers’ salaries, resources, etc. The children in affluent communities will generally receive a better education than their lower-class counterparts, and the social class pyramid will reproduce. There is also a large percentage of minorities living in lowerclass areas, and many schools experience “residential segregation,” in which whites and minorities often attend separate schools due to where they live.

To solve this problem, all schools need to receive equal funding, and a serious effort needs to be done to increase diversity in schools. The Wake County school system’s decision affects us all because it reflects the attitudes of our citizens and threatens the ongoing effort to erase all forms of segregation. “What is sad and cynical about what this anti-diversity caucus is trying to do,” Barber comments, “is that five months of action is threatening to destroy 56 years of progress.”

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