New report points to segregation in private schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, we reported on the widening racial and economic divisions in North Carolina’s two largest school systems, despite ample evidence that high concentrations of impoverished children in any school can be harmful to students’ performance.

Now, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a Georgia-based advocate for school equity, has issued a new report on virtual segregation in private schools across the country despite programs in 19 states, including North Carolina, tasked with funneling public cash toward increasing the population of low-income children in private schools.

Three years ago, North Carolina did just that with the Opportunity Scholarship Program, despite an outcry from many public education activists. And while the SEF’s report relies on 2012 demographic data (before the creation of this state’s voucher program), the numbers show segregation in private schools, particularly in southern states like North Carolina, is a very real problem.

From the report:

[W]hite students across most of the 50 states are significantly over-represented in private schools, often attending virtually segregated private schools, and usually attending private schools in which under-represented students of color — African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — are virtually excluded. These overall racial patterns among America’s private schools are more severe in the South and especially extreme in the six Deep South states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) that in the early 1960s both financed private schools and were foremost in blocking governmental mandates for significant public school desegregation. These “freedom of choice” states currently are among the nine Southern states providing public funding to private schools.

The report found that, in 2012, North Carolina was among the country’s states with the “largest over-representation” of white students in public schools, meaning that the percentage of white enrollment in private schools—more than 82 percent—far exceeded the percentage of white children in the state’s school age population—about 57 percent. That’s the fifth highest difference in the country.

Among the report’s other interesting findings, southern states like North Carolina were also far more likely to see “virtual segregation” in their private schools, meaning at least 90 percent of students were of one race or ethnicity.

In North Carolina, 45 percent of white students attending private schools went to “virtually segregated” schools, compared to just 8 percent of white public school students. That’s the sixth highest difference in the country.

The report goes on:

A renewed interest in supporting private schools with public money occurs as the demographics of our public schools are increasingly diverse, with a majority of low income students and students of color.  Last year, approximately $1 billion was diverted to private schools from state treasuries across the country.  Now more than ever, we should use these resources to fund public schools and equip them to serve each and every child, with engaging curricula, high quality teaching, positive discipline practices, parent and community engagement, and wrap-around supports.  Scarce public resources should not be used to fund private schools, which can pick and choose which children attend and are not subject to the same accountability as our public schools.


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