In case you missed it earlier this week, there was a powerful op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer that explained in painful detail how charter schools are abetting and expediting the re-segregation of our public schools. As civil rights advocates Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix of the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights explained, the most recent case involves the conversion of a private academy in long-troubled Halifax County.
In February, the state’s Charter School Advisory Board approved the conversion of Hobgood Academy, a private school in Halifax County, to a publicly funded charter school. The decision, which will result in the school receiving up to $2 million in taxpayer money that would otherwise go to the already underfunded public schools in the county, sadly ignores the racialized history of the school and the continuing legacy of segregated education in Halifax. It also contradicts school choice advocates’ purported reliance on a market-based theory of education.
In the late 1960’s, as desegregation was finally coming to North Carolina, a number of private schools — ”segregation academies” —were opened to allow white parents to pull out of integrating public schools. Hobgood Academy, founded in 1969, is a textbook example of these attempts to preserve segregated education, and has maintained that profile throughout its existence, with a student body that is 88 percent white. Halifax County Schools, the public school district in which Hobgood is located, is just 4 percent white.
The decision to approve a charter for Hobgood demonstrates the state’s steadfast refusal to consider the issue of racial segregation in charter schools. The willingness to provide millions of taxpayer dollars to support Hobgood’s survival ignores not only its legacy as a white educational enclave in Halifax, but also the reality that the entire county continues to struggle with the challenges of racially divided schools. Three public school districts serve the county’s approximately 6000 students. In addition to the county district, Weldon City Schools is 3 percent white, while Roanoke Rapids Schools is 60 percent white. Additionally, these districts are already handicapped by the significant diversion of funds to existing charter schools.
If Hobgood had been a public school, it would have been legally required to take affirmative remedial measures to address its segregative practices and create a racially diverse student body. It never did so. In its charter application, Hobgood promises to recruit “students who will reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the town of Hobgood and Halifax County Schools.” But how realistic is it to believe that any significant number of African American or Latinx parents would choose to send their children to a school that was designed to, and for decades has, excluded them?