The New Way Towns Are Segregating Schools

Chris Hoenig, DiversityInc, February 14, 2014

Part of Baton Rouge, La., wants to segregate the city’s schools, and residents are working on a completely legal method to do so.

People who live in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish are looking to create their own city and public-school district to separate themselves from the poorer neighborhoods in the parish—and schools within them. Split supporters say the existing district performs so poorly that state monitors have been brought in, while opponents say it’s only going to cause bigger problems.

“It’s going to devastate us,” 45-year-old Tania Nyman, who has two elementary-age children in the Baton Rouge system, told Bloomberg,com. “They’re not only going to take the richer white kids out of the district, they are going to take their money out of it.”

The public-school district currently spends an average of $9,635 on each of its approximately 42,000 students. According to three economics professors at Louisiana State University, which is located in Baton Rouge, funding for the remaining students would drop to $8,870 per student, a number only buoyed by an increase in state aid because of the lower average-income level of the redrawn district. The new district’s per-pupil spending, meanwhile, would jump to $11,686.

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The current district—which is 80 percent Black, and where 82 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches—has struggled for more than a decade. The dropout rate for the 2011—2012 school year was 20 percent, and 60 percent of the district’s students attended a school that was ranked as failing or almost failing.

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The new city, to be called St. George, is looking to join other Southern communities that have legally segregated their schools. In 2012, residents of Brookhaven, Ga., decided to incorporate what had been a mostly white neighborhood in the 55 percent—Black DeKalb County into their own town. The move allowed the 49,000 residents to explore school districts with other mostly white communities, pulling tax dollars from the county-wide school district.

Last year, Gardendale, Ala., residents approved an increase in property taxes in order to start their own public-school district, setting up one of now 13 separate districts within Jefferson County. Gardendale’s population is 88 percent white, while more than 42 percent of Jefferson County residents are Black.

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