Busing and Desegregation: Understanding the Link

Busing and Desegregation: Understanding the Link
What happens when a school district stops busing students? Could segregation once again be a reality for public school districts? Wake County in North Carolina is testing the segregation waters with its decision to stop busing students in their district.

Desegregation through busing has been a regular occurrence since 1954, when the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. Today, many school districts across the country bus children across towns in hopes of maintaining racial and economic diversity and ensuring a higher quality of education for all students. However, one school district in North Carolina has recently come into the public spotlight because of their decision to stop the practice, leaving children to attend school in their own neighborhoods.

Wake School Board Supporting Student Reassignment

According to a report in the News and Observer, the Wake school board recently approved a plan to reassign around 3,500 students to schools closer to their homes. The proposal will have the biggest impact on Southeast Raleigh, where most students will switch to schools in their own neighborhoods, shaving up to 10 miles off bus rides in the mornings and afternoons. However, the plan will also send more students into higher poverty schools and could reduce the available spots for suburban students at the popular magnet schools in the district.

The plan is in response to a policy change that was set in motion last year, which stresses sending students to schools close to their homes, rather than using diversity as a factor in student school assignments. In addition to the students approved for the move this week, the district may move another nearly 200 students this coming fall. A public hearing is scheduled for next week to discuss this additional move and allow the board to vote on the matter.

Ron Margiotta, the Republican school board chairman for Wake County, told the News and Observer, "We have begun the process of fulfilling our promises to our community to return proximity and stability to the student assignment process in Wake County."

However, not everyone on the current or past board was happy about the plan. Former school board member Beverly Clark told the board before the vote, "You are on a path that will cost our community more and educate our children less."

Does Desegregation Work?

A recent paper published at Net Industries discusses the pros and cons of desegregating schools through busing. Those in favor of busing for the purpose of greater economic and racial diversity in schools cite the following reasons for their support:

  • Racial integration is a worthy goal, and busing is an easy means to achieving that goal.
  • Schools that are primarily made up of minority students are often lower quality in terms of facilities and education.
  • Children in higher socioeconomic areas naturally have more opportunities than children who do not.
  • Desegregation diminishes many of these disparities and creates a more just society.
  • Busing is an affordable way to achieve desegregation that only makes up about 5 percent of the operating costs of a school district once the system is in place.

Opponents of busing are not necessarily opposed to desegregation, but of using busing to achieve that purpose. Some of the reasons opponents do not like busing include:

  • Focus is placed on where children go to school, rather than on the quality of education as a whole.
  • Busing causes white flight – where white families move their children from public city schools to private and suburban institutions.
  • Busing is too costly for school districts that must purchase the buses to establish the program.
  • Court-ordered busing is an abuse of judicial power and should be made by an elected body of representatives instead.
  • Neighborhood schools have been shown to be a more desirable means of educating children because it gives them a sense of pride and identity.

Civil Rights in Question

While there is a legitimate debate on both sides of the busing issue, Wake County's decision to reassign students has received plenty of reaction across the country. An op-ed piece in The Pilot stated that the issue was even mentioned on Stephen Cobert's "Colbert Report," where Colbert stated, "A recent poll showed that 94.5 percent of Wake County parents are satisfied with their children's schools. Clearly, a tragic triumph of government intervention…Sure, integrating may sound benign, but what's the use of living in a gated community if my kids go to school and get 'poor' all over them?"

The NAACP for North Carolina has sent a letter to the Wake County school board, asking to discuss diversity and the board's recent decision, according to a report at WRAL. The civil rights organization has voiced concern over how this new plan will affect the quality of education and constitutional educational opportunities for all students enrolled in schools in Wake County. The organization believes this move could pave the way for pockets of poverty within Raleigh that would keep lower income students for receiving the quality of education they desperately need to break the poverty cycle.

NAACP President Rev. William Barber wrote, "We stand ready to help with any initiative that will improve student achievement and graduation rates and stop the school-to-prison pipeline. We will use every means possible to stop and reverse actions that would dismantle Wake's nationally recognized SES diversity policy."

The new plan will not go fully into effect in Wake County until the 2012-2013 school year, but some assignments will switch more low-income students to high poverty schools within the next academic year. If the plan goes into effect, some fear the school district could lose a significant amount of funding as a result of the policy. The op-ed piece in The Pilot estimated that Wake could stand to lose up to $3.5 million in Disadvantaged Students Supplemental Funding if desegregation were to stop.

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