It has been sixty years since the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that swept the nation and shocked the South when Chief Justice Earl Warren, along with the rest of the Supreme Court, unanimously struck down the precedent of “Separate but Equal” that was provided by the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. This ruling was the effective end of de jure, or legal, segregation in the public school system in the United States. The process was painstaking and the decades following there was a massive shift in the demographic makeup of schools, especially in urban areas and the South.
The United States has changed significantly since 1954, as de jure segregation has been virtually eradicated. That does not, however, mean that all schools today are currently integrated. Following the court decision, many urban areas saw the rise of the suburbs, with the concept of “White Flight”. It is the concept that when integration was mandated by the courts, many white families moved to the suburbs in an effort to avoid integration. The frenzy of purchasing homes in the suburbs made the house prices skyrocket, effectively segregating minorities due to the fact that many minorities made significantly less than whites at the time. This is not to say that anyone who is white and living in the suburbs right now is a racist, but it is an acknowledgement that due to White Flight, the suburban and urban demographics are very segregated. We are now left with a public education system where de facto segregation, that is, segregation by cultural practice instead of law, is now in effect.
Throughout the decades following the Brown decision, school districts made attempts to integrate their schools in a variety of ways, despite White Flight. In North Carolina, the city of Charlotte attempted to bus students in order to achieve racial balance back in the 1970’s. The case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg specifically allowed the city of Charlotte to go through with their busing plan, and set a precedent for the rest of the segregated South to follow. As the years passed, a new generation had come to power and there was a naïve belief that integration had been achieved (to some extent) and that the mandatory practice of busing was dragging children out of their local communities, costing thousands of dollars for the school district, and being an inefficient system. Many districts successfully removed busing, persuading parents that their tax dollars could be spent on their child’s education, not the bus ride to school. The end of busing began a very dangerous trend.
What has been this trend in the past twenty years or so is the slow transition from integration to re segregation. Only this time, the segregation is not driven primarily by hate or by law, but by the housing patterns of the United States. Overall, African Americans struggle to find employment or make as much as their white counterparts do. Due to this, these minority families wind up in the cheaper districts, many of which have several issues with their public schools. These schools lack some of the basic tools to succeed, leaving these students with very little opportunities to achieve at a high enough level to escape these neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the cycle of limited opportunities has slithered into each generation and maintained its status as a powerful force, unlike integration. It would be almost impossible to integrate some of the schools I am talking about. These schools are in some cases so undesirable that a push for integrated schools by pulling students from the more successful suburban schools and placing them into the struggling urban schools would be a waste of time.
Now, it would be reckless and irresponsible to justify any type of segregation. A plan to integrate without a blueprint in place with objectives and goals to help structure the plan, however, would most likely fail. What I would suggest is a plan that would help break the cycle, and lead to a more integrated housing situation, by offering an equal opportunity to every student, regardless of race. The plan would call for a change in the way property taxes are allocated.
Instead of a portion of property tax dollars going directly to the local schools, the State should collect these taxes and spread them across the entire state. This would ensure that poor districts would receive additional funding, since many of their schools are underfunded due to a lack of wealth in the community to draw from. In order to offset the inevitable deficits for wealthier school districts that rely on the high income residents of the district to cover the costs, each state would need to adjust their budget accordingly. Some states may utilize programs already in place, such as toll ways or lotteries to offset the cost. Other states may need to slash parts of their budget to find the funds. I will concede that this is not an easy task, and that there are potential obstacles in the way, but there are political benefits to my plan to help ignite support among legislators. This would be a perfect chance for Republicans to audit their state government to find where inefficient programs could be cut, and allow Democrats to champion legislation to reduce inequality. Both parties would also be able to claim credit and be the party of Education. Most important, every student would have a chance to succeed.
The objective of such a restructuring would be to provide a better Education in low income areas, giving more opportunities to the students of these districts. The addition of new opportunities will allow these students to go further in their educational careers and help them acquire a job that requires education levels at a high school degree and beyond. This new system promotes more opportunity, and with that new opportunity social mobility will increase. Once there is more social mobility to minority groups, these groups will begin to close the income gap that has emerged between whites and minorities. The increase of incomes will mean more housing opportunities across the state and the nation. The combination of in-state migration along with migration across borders will integrate communities as the barrier of wealth will decline. This is not to say that all people will have equal wealth, but it will ensure that those who work hard will actually see results, regardless of where they were born or the color of their skin.
Overall, the goal is to integrate housing patterns without something overbearing or unrealistic. Legislation to directly integrate neighborhoods is nearly impossible to write, and I doubt any of it would be Constitutional either. Once the housing patterns have become more integrated, perhaps my plan above could be re-evaluated or eliminated. The caveat I will give is that my plan takes years to implement. Results will not occur in a year, five years, or maybe even ten years. It will take an entire generation, possibly two, for the full effect to take place. Adjustments will need to be made over the years as well; my plan is not inflexible nor is it demanding. But it does require commitment.
I am committed to the elimination of segregation. The battle over de jure segregation is mostly over, but the fight to eliminate de facto segregation needs to be intensified. To truly end segregation, we need to acknowledge that it occurs not by necessarily our own but the actions of those before us. But allowing the effects of those actions will be what we are remembered as; the generation that enabled segregation, rather than stopping it. I don’t want to be a part of that generation. The Brown decision did its part to combat segregation, and now it is our turn to do our part to eliminate segregation of all forms, so we can finally achieve equal opportunity for every child.