School Diversification

Financial Justice Ideas and Issues

New Orleans In the shocking wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rollback on the utilization of race for assuring both equity and diversity in schools, one area worth a harder look is the utilization of socio-economic status (SES) as the determining factor in pupil placement. This standard is being used in some school districts impacting several students as some districts have confronted the shifting sands around race.

Usually the test is qualification for federal free and reduced price meals. From that basis the district tries to distribute a certain percentage of lower income children to higher income schools. Research seems to indicate that the achievement of these lower income students improves due to the diversification. Because the poor are disproportionately also non-white, such programs also achieve a level of racial integration as well. Big city school districts in San Francisco, Las Vegas (Clark County), and Baltimore are among those using some variation of an income based system.

To date such plans seems to have escaped frontal attack by the right-wing legal outfits that are roiling the school systems and courts on the racial challenges. The Bushies also seem to be willing to abide by SES diversification systems.

Chief Justice Roberts’ standard that essentially it is racial discrimination in violation of the constitution to use race as a factor even in dealing with race creates a full a classically closed logic circle that will no doubt inspire huge debate and challenge. I think Roberts has discovered the legal version of mica, the shiny rock so common in the mountains of the West. When you find mica, the shine convinces you that you are holding gold, but on closer examination, it’s just gold-like in appearance and nothing of the sort, which is why it’s called “fools gold.” So, sure, no one wants to discriminate based on race, but to aver that it is discrimination to use race in any way including to correct the impacts of discrimination is perverse, and will continue the head long sprint by so many to avoid race.

The non-poor and the white continue to abandon the public school systems around the country in frightening numbers and disregard for the impacts on communities, citizenship, and educational standards and achievement, so in many urban school districts where the non-white percentages are in the mid-80% and higher range, one should scramble the eggs with income because it’s the right thing to do for everyone, but it won’t have supplemental benefits in other areas of diversity. This seems another area where we are seeing the achievements of more than a generation unraveled and undone.

Chief Justice John Roberts, right, wrote the majority’s decision. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent.