Charters and Resegregation

Colorlines reports on a new study by The Hechinger Report, The Investigative Fund, and NBC News, which finds that a significant number of charter schools serve student populations that are significantly whiter than their districts. The full report, authored by Emmanuel Felton, looks at the particularly egregious example of Lake Oconee Academy, a k-12 charter school built explicitly to promote a retiree-oriented community to affluent families with young children, giving priority in enrollment to students of that area, and exacerbating racial segregation and educational inequality in a Georgia school district.

Read the whole report. I’ll just note that Lake Oconee Academy enrolls about a thousand students and has a student-piano ratio of about 40:1.

Historically, it is well worth noting, as Nancy MacLean does in her acclaimed (and controversial) book Democracy in Chains, that calls for school privatization and “choice” plans decoupling public school funding from publicly operated schools originated in the state of Virginia’s response to Brown v. Board of Education. Inspired by libertarian political economist James Buchanan, Virginia closed its public schools and offered vouchers so that the state and its subsidiary school districts would not technically be guilty of operating segregated schools.

This option proved politically impossible to maintain, as historian Matthew Lassiter argued, because affluent white suburbanites in Atlanta and other parts of the urbanizing south of the early 1960s felt entitled to quality schools and expected state officials to take action to reopen schools. Of course, they also expected that action in compliance with desegregation orders would be minimal, and advocated for “neighborhood schools” doctrines that ensured that affluent communities would be shielded from meaningful integration by the high price of homes (political theorist Clarissa Rile Hayward aptly describes this as “tuition”).

The case of Lake Oconee Academy suggests this dynamic will continue to play out in obvious and subtle ways. The homes in the school’s preferred attendance area are significantly more expensive than in the rest of the county, and likely to command an even higher premium based on the presumption that buying in the gated subdivision entitles the buyer to better schools. The Academy also requires Lands End uniforms, does not offer bus transportation, and gives priority in admission to the children of teachers and board members and the siblings of current students.

These policies are instrumental in maintaining a disproportionately white student population, and it’s not as though this was ever a mystery, as Felton writes of the school’s founding:

In December of 2006, the school board called a special meeting. The sole item on the agenda was the charter school, and the board voted four to one to approve it. Roi Johnson, longtime pastor of New Springfield Baptist Church in the small town of Siloam, says he stood up and declared, “What you’re doing is resegregating the schools intentionally.”

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One comment on “Charters and Resegregation

  1. […] about, and cash-strapped cities agree in desperation to go along. Or when affluent whites want to avoid school desegregation. These are not conversations, except in the sense that ransom notes are conversations. And, while […]

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