The anniversary of the March on Washington continues to generate unexpected attention on school desegregation – a subject that has virtually disappeared from the public policy agenda but was a major issue in 1963 at the time of the original march.
In today’s New York Times, a fascinating video documentary tells the story of the successful mandatory busing program instituted in the the Charlotte Mecklenberg School District in North Carolina, which had been at the epicenter of school desegregation wars for many years.
The documentary, produced by Retro Report, a nonprofit organization, describes how the district became a model for school desegregation after the busing plan was instituted, despite fierce resistance initially.
But a 1999 federal district court ruling ended the busing plan, saying it was no longer necessary because intentional discrimination was no longer a problem in the district. As the documentary describes, the end of busing has contributed to formerly integrated schools becoming racially segregated again. West Charlotte High, which in the 1990s had a 60 percent white and 40 percent black enrollment, now has a black enrollment of 88 percent and white enrollment of only 1 percent.
The article goes refers to other court orders lifting school desegregation orders:
And it wasn’t just Charlotte. Today, nearly two-thirds of the school districts that had been ordered to desegregate are no longer required to do so, including Seminole County, Fla. (2006); Little Rock, Ark. (2007); and Galveston County, Tex. (2009).
Mandatory busing has long been outlawed in California as a result of Proposition 1, approved by voters in 1979, and upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1981. ( A voluntary busing program still exists in Berkeley, which was one of the first communities in the nation to adopt such a program. The plan withstood a constitutional challenge in 2009.)
At the same time, as I wrote in earlier posts, schools have becoming increasingly segregated in California schools in recent decades, as documented in voluminous research by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.
Ironically, many school districts that once operated under court ordered consent decrees to desegregate their schools are still receiving a total of $856 million annually in categorical funds through the Targeted Instructional Improvement grants program. Attempts were made to eliminate this funding stream as part of the school finance reform plan adopted by the State Legislature in June, which abolished most categorical programs. But school districts argued successfully to retain the funding stream – which has done little to stem the increasing concentration of blacks and Latinos in public schools attended by fewer and fewer white and Asian students.
Thanks for reading.
Can you help sustain our reporting?
Our team of journalists, editors, and fact-checkers do an estimated 440 hours of research every week to bring you the news on California education. That's a lot of work.