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Economic disparity in state public schools is growing

Although racial balance in North Carolina’s public schools has remained steady since 2005-06,  students are increasingly separated by income.

That’s one of several findings in a new report by Duke University professors Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd and Jacob Vigdor, “Racial and Economic Diversity in North Carolina’s Schools: An Update.”

“Although state-enforced school segregation is now a distant memory, significant disparities remain between schools, both racial and economic,” Clotfelter. “These disparities are among the most pressing civil rights issues of our time.”

Among other findings:

• Imbalance by economic status has increased steadily since 1994-95. This index measures disparities in the percentage of students eligible for free lunch across schools within each of the state’s 100 counties. Vance, Mecklenburg, Hyde, Forsyth and Bertie counties have the highest rates of economic imbalance, meaning school populations do not mirror the counties’ populations.

• Enrollment of Hispanic students in N.C. public schools grew from 1.5 percent in 1994-95 to 13.3 percent in 2011-12. Largely as a result of this growth, the proportion of students attending predominantly white schools (those at least 90 percent white) decreased from 9 percent of all students in 2005-06 to 4 percent in 2011-12.

• After increasing between 1994-95 and 2005-06, average white-nonwhite imbalance in the state’s public schools has remained stable. The study’s racial imbalance index assesses whether the racial makeup of schools mirrors the county’s population. • Racial imbalance is highest in Halifax County, followed by Davidson County. Both counties are served by three racially disparate school districts, a county-level district and two citywide districts. Mecklenburg, Alamance and Forsyth round out the top five most racially imbalanced counties. Each of these counties has one school district.

• Public charter schools are much more likely than regular public schools to be racially unbalanced. Whereas 30 percent of regular public school students attended a racially unbalanced school (one with less than 20 percent or more than 80 percent minority enrollment), more than 60 percent of charter school students attended a racially unbalanced school. This measure considers the racial makeup within a particular school, rather than comparing the school to the county as a whole.

The full report can be found here.

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