Resegregating our schools

Published June 6, 2024

By Tom Campbell

 Several weeks ago, I wrote a column accusing our General Assembly of deliberately dismantling traditional public education and asked why Republicans were trying to destroy public schools?
Longtime columnist and friend John Hood denied there was a conspiracy to destroy public schools. It was, he asserted, an effort to introduce competition and choice into public education. Hood said, “People favor school choice because they think it will best serve the interests of students, families, educators, and taxpayers.” Given the choice, most parents would prefer that their children mingle with others of their income, race and education status.
Vouchers and school choice have been part of the Republican agenda in our state going back to the mid-1990s. The movement failed primarily because it was seen as a thinly disguised effort to resegregate public schools.
Today’s public schools face big problems, and we don’t see sufficient efforts being made to fix them, so let’s acknowledge that some of the movement to charter, private and home schools is a vote from parents who want their child to have a better education experience and may not be racially motivated. But for whatever the reason the facts demonstrate that the result of this school choice movement is a resegregation of our public schools.
A report released last month confirms this truth. Titled “Can Our Schools Capture the Educational Gains of Diversity? North Carolina School Segregation, Alternatives and Possible Gains,” the study was led by Dr. Jenn Ayscue, an Assistant Professor in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and in Educational Leadership at NC State University. Ayscue said, “Over the last decade, our schools in North Carolina have become more diverse, but they have also become more segregated, so we're trending in the wrong direction.” 
From 1989 to 2021 North Carolina school enrollments increased by 41 percent, reflecting the rapid population growth in our state. Despite a growth in diversity of our school age population, patterns of segregation intensified.
From the report:
·      “In 2021, the typical White student attended a school where 58.9% of the students were White, even though White students only comprised 45% of the total state enrollment. 
·      “The typical Black student attended a school where 41.2% of the students were Black, even though Black students accounted for 25% of the state’s enrollment. 
·      “The typical Hispanic student attended a school where 28.7% of the students were Hispanic, even though Hispanic students accounted for only 20% of the state’s public school enrollment.”
The report states the typical Black student attended a school with 28.3 percent White students. The typical Hispanic student attended a school with 36.1 percent White students. And despite only having 45 percent of the total school population, 68.6 percent of White students attended majority White schools.
Even more significantly, “within intensely segregated schools of color 82.6 percent of the students of the students received free or reduced-price lunches, indicating a double segregation of students by race and poverty.”
The typical Black and Hispanic student attended a school with a disproportionately large share of low-income students (61.3 percent and 55.3 percent) while the typical White and Asian student attended a school with a disproportionately small share of low-income students (38.0 and 29.4 percent, respectively).
Since 2021, funding for school vouchers has dramatically increased. The income threshold for qualifying for vouchers has been virtually removed. Our schools are even more segregated than in 2021.
On May 17th we observed the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that declared that “separating children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional.”
North Carolina dragged its feet after the Brown decision but finally accepted integration and began seriously working to desegregate public schools. We’ve made good progress, but it apparently is now being reversed. In 2001, Whites accounted for close to 70 percent of the public-school cohort; now it is 45 percent.
We are witnessing White flight in our public schools. Many White students went to charters where 52.5 percent were majority white in 2021. We don’t have accurate racial percentages from private or home schools, but it is fair to assume they are at least as White as charters. 
The trendlines are clear. If nothing changes, public schools, in the not-too-distant future, will largely be populated by minorities, children from lower socioeconomic incomes and special needs students. Education outcomes will likely decline. 
When this happens, we predict there will be a lawsuit that will make Leandro look tame - one that could potentially have budget-busting financial consequences for the state, but also trigger a moral imperative. Brown v. the Board decrees integrated schools and our state constitution guarantees that ALL children will have the opportunity for a “sound basic education,” regardless of race, sex or economic status.
It is obvious that some do not agree but our schools should be representative of our entire population. It is both the correctand the right thing to do. 
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at