It could be the end of an era.
Black children and yellow school buses long have been inextricably linked in the history of education in America. It started with the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that allowed for school desegregation in cities like Milwaukee. That led to widespread busing movements that allowed black students to attend classes outside their neighborhoods at predominantly white schools.
A decision by the Milwaukee School Board last week to drastically reduce the amount of busing in the district will alter a fundamental relationship that has existed in this city for generations of students.
But what the Milwaukee School Board did was not a statement about the racial makeup of the city’s public schools, many of which are predominantly African-American. School Board member Michael Bonds, the architect of the plan, says busing isn’t about desegregation anymore.
“When the district is 88% minority, it’s not about race,” Bonds told me. “It’s about the fact we’ve spent $57 million on a failed policy.”
MPS provides busing for 55,000 students a day at a cost of $57 million annually, according to reports. Bonds figures that kind of money could be better used in a school system that graduates less than half of its students. Specifically, he thinks the $20 million his proposal will save could be used to strengthen neighborhood schools, including re-opening several north side schools and providing art and music programs in those areas.
“We’ve ended up closing schools in some of the most stable black neighborhoods in the city,” said Bonds, an associate professor of educational policy and community studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “Then, choice and charter schools open up located in the same areas we abandon. Something’s not right with this picture.”
Ironically, most choice and charter schools in Milwaukee’s central city are also predominantly African-American. Clearly, school desegregation—to say nothing of true integration—is as much a thing of the past as the Brown v. Board of Education decision.