Home > Uncategorized > A Toxic Mix: Redlining, Wealth Disparity, and Supreme Court Rulings on Bussing

A Toxic Mix: Redlining, Wealth Disparity, and Supreme Court Rulings on Bussing

March 26, 2019

The NYTimes recently ran two seemingly unrelated articles that underscored the underlying obstacles to achieving equal opportunity for all children in our country, especially given a set of Supreme Court rulings that effectively preclude opportunities for choice across district lines.

How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades“, a recently republished 2017 Upshot article by Emily Badger that fell under the heading “Self-Fulfilling Prophesies”, described the seamy history of redlining, a practice whereby real estate salespersons and banks conspired to limit the access of housing for blacks to certain neighborhoods through the use of color-coded maps. The result was de facto segregation and the creation of a vicious cycle:

The maps became self-fulfilling prophesies, as “hazardous” neighborhoods — “redlined” ones — were starved of investment and deteriorated further in ways that most likely also fed white flight and rising racial segregation. These neighborhood classifications were later used by the Veterans Administration and the Federal Housing Administration to decide who was worthy of home loans at a time when homeownership was rapidly expanding in postwar America.

A few days later the Times published Sarah Mervosh’s article “How Much Wealthier are White School Districts than Non-White Ones? $23,000,000,000 Report Says” The headline provides the cold hard facts about the funding disparity between affluent white school districts and property poor black districts. But the relationship between housing practices and wealth disparity jumps out:

The report took aim at school district borders, which it said can chop up communities and wall off wealthier districts to fund their schools with local property tax revenue, while poorer districts are unable to generate the same revenue.

“Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many,” the report said.

Anyone who has examined school funding knows this is true not only on a racial basis but also on a socio-economic basis. The only way these disparities can be fixed is through increased funding at a higher level: either at the State level or through some kind of compensatory federal funding. Unfortunately neither of those mechanisms are working, and so children born into economically deprived neighborhoods or communities are stuck in underfunded schools.

And school choice is not the solution either. As the EdBuild report that was the basis for the NYTimes article notes, school choice only makes things worse:

Arizona also had one of the most drastic differences in funding among states listed in the report. Dr. López said that in her state, “boundary lines are a huge contributor because of gerrymandering, segregation and zoning.”

But she said the situation in Arizona was exacerbated by a new kind of “white flight” because of the popularity of charter schools and open enrollment, a policy that allows parents to request that their children attend schools outside the district. In Arizona, funding generally follows the student, rather than staying in the district.

It’s depleting even more funding from these districts that were already at a disadvantage to begin with,” Dr. López (associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona) said.

Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the department was aware of disparities in the state but did not believe the gap was “as egregious” as the report suggested.

“Equity and fairness are a major concern for us and we are open to exploring a variety of options to address these problems,” he said in a statement.

But he said the State Legislature would need to take action to consolidate school districts, something school boards generally oppose.

“It is far from certain that consolidation would help here,” he said. “What will help is more funding for education across the board,” with a focus on addressing inequities.

The Arizona spokesman may not see the gap as being “as egregious” as the report indicated in his State, but anyone conversant with spreadsheets can verify EdBuild’s findings and, in so doing, demonstrate that there are significant disparities between the funding in property poor districts and affluent ones.

Everyone who studied history is aware of the Brown v. Board of Education case that overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case which determined that it was acceptable to offer “separate but equal” services for blacks. It has been over 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land, a longer time period than Plessy was the rule of law, but nothing has changed. Why? Because two successive court cases involving bussing that followed Brown v. Board of Education had the effect of making district boundaries impermeable unless it could be shown that the boundaries were drawn solely for the purpose of segregation. As a NYTimes article in 2012 reported, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district the court “upheld the use of busing as a “remedial technique” for achieving desegregation” based on the reasoning that it was not enough “for school officials to draw school attendance lines that appear to be racially neutral“, they had to “foster integration by such affirmative measures as gerrymandering school boundaries to include both races, pairing ‘white’ and ‘Negro’ schools, and drawing school zones that combine noncontiguous areas in racially diverse neighborhoods.”

But two years later, the court made it clear that such rules did not require cross district bussing, stating that “...students could only be bused across district lines if there was evidence that multiple districts had implemented deliberately discriminatory policies.

So the court ruled that intra-district “gerrymandering” is required, but inter-district solutions are not unless it could be shown that “multiple districts had implemented deliberately discriminatory policies”, a very high bar.

The result is a politically intractable moral problem. Our nation seems unwilling to raise the funds needed to create a level playing field, instead buying into the notion that children can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they are born into poverty and are somehow deserving of more services if they have the good fortune to be born into affluence. The only solution to a moral problem is to appeal to the higher angels of voters. Here’s hoping that 2020 will bring forth a candidate who will do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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