How to go the extra mile in preserving your school privilege

Sometimes I wonder what is worse–white parents who say they want to send their children to diverse school districts but do everything they can to make sure their child has separate classes and better opportunities than low-income children of color? Or white parents so baldly intent on preserving their privilege  that they will go so far as to secede from a diverse school district to create a whiter, more affluent bubble for their children.

U.S. News and Word Report recently detailed a growing, largely hidden, wave of school secessions, a movement that parent organizers say isn’t  about race–of course it isn’t!–but rather about the fair distribution of financial resources.

Dozens of school districts have similarly broken away from bigger ones – at least 36 since 2000, according to EdBuild, a nonprofit that focuses on education funding and inequality – moves that went largely undetected. In almost all cases, the communities involved were less diverse and had higher property values than those they left behind, compounding socioeconomic inequalities that plague public schools.

“All this stuff is happening really quietly,” says Rebecca Sibilia, founder of EdBuild. “You’re talking about students who are left behind and who are further disadvantaged by the fact that their neighbors are able to move the goal posts on them.”

In total, 30 states have a process in place allowing districts to secede, according to a legislative analysis by researchers at EdBuild, who are preparing to publish a report on secessions next month. Of those 30 states, only 17 require consideration be given to the secession’s impact on students, and only six require consideration be given to the impact on socioeconomic factors and diversity. Moreover, only nine states require a study of the potential fiscal impact to the district.

I know we’re all supposed to be celebrating the return of local control, but it points out that states and local districts can not always be trusted to protect the interests of the most vulnerable students over the political clout of monied parents in suburban districts. In most of these secession cases, the states are making it easier for districts to do the wrong thing.

According to EdBuild’s analysis, some states make it incredibly easy for districts to splinter off.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Maine, and Utah, for example, state laws don’t require that the proposal be voted on by people in the district that the seceding district is leaving behind, whereas in other states, a district-wide vote is required.

On average, the number of school-aged children in seceding districts is about 4,000 compared to the roughly 32,000 school-aged children that comprise the districts from which they secede, according to the EdBuild analysis.

Perhaps the answer lies in a dramatic restructuring of the way schools are funded. We know the overwhelming reliance on property taxes perpetuates funding disparities, and any attempt to address those disparities will only fuel these secession efforts. If the money was distributed fairly, then parents would have to come clean about their true motivations: Is it really just about money? Or is it really about race?
What do you think?
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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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