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Report: School Segregation Up, Policy Change Needed For School Districts And Charter Schools

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A new report from the left-leaning NC Justice Center has found that schools in the state have become slightly more segregated in the past decade. The report Stymied by Segregation found that the number of racially or economically isolated schools has gone up in that time.

It defines a racially-isolated school as one where at least 75 percent of students belong to a racial or ethnic minority, and an economically-isolated school as one where 75 percent of students are on free or reduced price lunch. The number of schools in the state that met both those criteria went up from 13 percent to 19 percent of schools in the state, since 2006.

“We’re concerned that not a lot of talk is happening about encouraging integration,” said Matt Ellinwood, the director of the center's Education and Law Project. “Even though from an education research perspective, there’s a lot of concern about the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students and between white students and students of color.”

The report cites research that school integration helps close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students and is shown to have no negative effect on advantaged students.

Segregation Higher in Districts with City-County Divide

The report suggests one way to improve integration is to merge school districts that have separate city and county school systems in the same metro area.

“Districts that are divided up that way, are on the whole more segregated than other school systems, so merging some of the county and city school districts could have a positive impact on integration,” Ellinwood said.

An on-going legislative committee is currently considering just the opposite -- splitting up larger districts previously merged from city and county districts. That committee will study the optimum size for school districts.

Charter Schools Contribute to Segregation

The report found that in 72 percent of counties with at least one charter school, those schools increase racial segregation in the district. The report suggests policy changes for charter schools could improve integration.

“Number one on our list has always been to require charter schools to offer transportation and participate in the school lunch program,” said Ellinwood.

Ellinwood also suggests that the charter school advisory board, which approves applications for new charter schools, could favor schools that reflect the racial demographics of their county or that weigh lotteries for student enrollment to consider racial diversity.

The report also suggests that the Department of Public Instruction could close charter schools that do not reasonably reflect the demographics of their county. Under current law, charter schools must “make efforts” to do so, but face no penalties if they do not.

Policy Director of the conservative Civitas Institute Bob Luebke questioned whether public schools should also be closed for not meeting those standards. Both Luebke and Ellinwood note that school segregation exists in part because neighborhoods are also segregated.

“A lot of schools are operating in environments that are already residentially segregated, and to say that it needs to change overnight, I believe that’s an unfair directive,” Luebke said.

The Justice Center’s report also recommends state policy that supports investment in affordable housing to reduce residential segregation.

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