With HB 514, legislature unambiguously embraces school segregation

There’s a word for what happens when majority-white suburbs pull their children from a majority-minority school district and place them into exclusionary, majority-white schools: segregation. With the advancement of HB 514, lawmakers are unambiguously embracing school segregation as state policy.

HB 514 allows four Charlotte suburbs – Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill – the authority to create and operate their own charter schools. These suburbs can then limit enrollment in these schools to municipal residents. Cornelius is 85 percent white. Huntersville is 77 percent white. Matthews is 78 percent white. Mint Hill is 73 percent white. Students in these majority-white suburbs are assigned to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), where white students comprise just 29 percent of enrollment.

To facilitate the funding of the schools authorized by HB 514, a related budget provision (Section 38.8) creates a new authority allowing North Carolina municipalities to spend property tax revenues on any public school that “benefits the residents of the city,” including charter schools. As national school finance expert Michael Griffith notes, similar provisions in other states have led to school funding becoming “divided on class lines and on racial lines.”

It’s quite the one-two punch. First, the General Assembly allows these suburbs to create schools with the legal authority to exclude children from nearby communities comprised mostly of non-white students. Then, these suburbs can then use their out-sized property wealth to provide their racially-isolated schools with resource levels denied to other students in the school district. In other words, these schools will be both separate and unequal.

Authorizing the creation of racially separate and unequal charter schools is not only immoral, it’s educationally harmful, and almost certainly unconstitutional, to boot.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education found that racially segregated schools generate in students of color “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” What message does HB 514 send to the students of color in Charlotte who are witnessing policymakers use their power to create new schools for the exclusive use of their mostly white suburban classmates? Consider also the message delivered to white children in these suburbs who might emerge thinking that racially-isolated, better-funded schools are something that they deserve on the basis of their privileged status.

Furthermore, by exacerbating racial segregation, policymakers will be harming the educational trajectories of CMS students. Inclusive, integrated schools are a proven model for lifting the performance of all students. School integration leads to large, persistent academic gains, lower dropout rates, and higher lifetime earnings for students of color and students from low income families. When schools are integrated, white students become less prejudiced and enhance their capacity for working with others, with no negative impact on white student test scores. But when schools become more segregated, as proposed by HB 514, achievement gaps, incarceration rates, and dropout rates all tend to rise.

The schools authorized by HB 514 are also likely unconstitutional. In Brown, the Supreme Court clearly established that racially separate schools are “inherently unequal” and violate the 14th Amendment. The additional revenue that could be directed to the HB 514 schools nearly guarantees that these schools will not only be racially separate will also be unequally resourced. These schools will serve a mostly-white student population and will likely benefit from additional expenditures denied students in neighboring CMS schools.

That the exacerbation of racially unequal schools is happening in Charlotte makes HB 514 all the more inexcusable. Among America’s 50 largest cities, Charlotte ranks dead last in terms of economic mobility. CMS is also the most racially and economically segregated district in the state. The creation of separate, racially isolated suburban schools doesn’t just fail to address the problems facing Charlotte, but actively make these problems worse.

Despite the obvious racially disparate impact of HB 514, bill proponents have bristled at charges of racism. During debate on HB 514, Senator Bill Cook complained, “The implication that we’re all a bunch of racists and all we’re trying to do is do something evil…That’s not true and I find great offense in it.” Yet as former North Carolina Teacher of the Year, James Ford already explained:

The result of (HB 514) will ultimately amount to systemic racism. It’s about a system, not personalities, that marginalize communities of color. Supporters of HB 514 do so either because, or in spite of, this fact.

The fact is, we are now 64 years removed from Brown v Board of Education. We’re 53 years removed from the terroristic assassination attempt on Julius Chambers, whose legal heroism culminated in 1971’s Swann v. Charlotte?Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling that forced the integration of CMS. Yet the proponents of school segregation persist. In 2018, we have municipal governments in Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill that are openly segregationist. We also have a General Assembly eagerly using the sanction of law to accede to the segregationist wishes of these communities. The mechanism created by HB 514 will undoubtedly be seized upon by other municipalities seeking to create white-flight schools of their own.

It’s important that we don’t shy from these basic facts. Whether inspired by racial animus or not, HB 514 will lead to the further segregation of CMS and disproportionately disadvantage students of color and students from low-income families. If we ever hope to achieve a public school system that is diverse and equitable, we can’t shy away from what HB 514 represents: the enthusiastic embrace of school segregation by our General Assembly.

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