News Roundup, first of 2018: A civil rights victory and segrenomics in action

Happy New Year everyone! SD Notebook is back from a long holiday-and-work induced hiatus with the first news roundup of 2018. In addition to the (hopefully more frequent) roundups, I’m working on pieces about youth activism and school integration, and I’m planning to do semi-regular research roundups separate from the news ones. I hope you’ll come back to check those out.

For now, though, what better way to kick things off than by discussing an obscure housing policy called the Small Area Fair Market rent rule. May not the the most scintillating topic, but it affects nearly 5 million people, and there was good news over the holidays!

Hang with me for a sec – here’s a very brief overview:

  • Previously, the value of federal housing vouchers (used to pay rent in so-called “section 8” housing) was calculated based on an average of rent prices across an entire metropolitan area. Advocates argued this was unfair because it left voucher holders in an impossible situation: their subsidy wasn’t enough to allow them to move into wealthier neighborhoods, leaving them vulnerable to price gouging by landlords in poorer neighborhoods. As a result, “families receiving public rental assistance have been concentrated in deeply segregated, high-poverty communities.”
  • The Small Area Fair Market rent rule is actually exactly what it sounds like – it requires that vouchers are calculated according to a smaller area (zip code) in order to make the subsidy more fair. It provides higher subsidies for rents in wealthier neighborhoods and lower subsidies for rents in poorer neighborhoods, which definitely sounds reasonable. After years of advocacy and research, the rule was developed by the Obama Administration who had planned for it to go into effect at the start of 2018. 
  • Over the summer, HUD secretary Ben Carson announced that he wanted to delay the rule for up to two years, offering very little explanation.
  • A coalition of civil rights groups, including the NAACP LDF and PRRAC, sued HUD to prevent the delay. And, they won! The judge essentially argued that the delay was “arbitrary and capricious” and that HUD’s best explanations didn’t hold water.
  • HUD still can appeal, so we’ll see what happens, but it’s good news for now. As noted in the Washington Post story: “Studies have shown that moving low-income families into wealthier communities results in better lives for their children, who are eventually more likely to attend college, earn more money, and reside in better neighborhoods as adults.”  

Two Rachel Cohen articles from the Intercept cover this very thoroughly. This one from back in October gives details about the lawsuit and HUD’s very weak defense. And, then this article from last week covers the court ruling and the rationale behind the judge’s decision. This Washington Post article is also very good and has a list of the 23 metro areas affected by the rule. PRRAC also has a great list of background resources about the case and ruling.

OK, now we turn to “segrenomics.” In a previous roundup, I wrote about the new book from Noliwe Rooks called “Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education.” Last week, Rooks did an interview about the book on the “Have You Heard?” podcast (28 mins). I highly recommend a full listen.

Here’s a brief summary –  

  • Rooks coined the term “segrenomics” to refer to the longstanding connection between unequal schooling and the philanthropic and/or business interests that stand to benefit from keeping schools separate and unequal.
  • One example from the podcast – Companies that have been established to verify that a student “belongs” in a certain school district. As you might be expecting, these companies target low-income and/or nonwhite students in majority-white or affluent districts. As Rooks explains in the podcast, “there’s a whole business that has come up around keeping these students out, from private investigators who literally follow people around to and from school to see where do they live, to giving finders fees to people to turn in your classmates, or parents who suspect those kids look like they don’t belong here.” Parents/guardians may (unlawfully) be charged with “stealing school,” facing criminal charges, and students may be kicked out of the district.

If you understandably don’t want to believe this is happening, here’s a Salon story from New Years day about Hamlet Garcia who was arrested for exactly this issue. At the time of the arrest, he and his wife were separated and their daughter was living with grandparents, attending school in their (affluent) school district. The county said it was all “a ruse” and, rather than face the potential for a guilty decision in court (and a harsher penalty), the Garcia’s agreed to a plea deal, which came with a fine of over $10,000.

It’s all so troubling. The article goes on to note:

  • Garcia wasn’t the first parent to face legal trouble for allegedly trying to “steal” an education for his child. In 2009, an upstate New York woman named Yolanda Hill was charged with two felonies for enrolling her children in a suburban district. In 2011 , a homeless mother in Connecticut was arrested for sending her 5-year-old son to a school in Norwalk because she was from nearby Bridgeport. Also in 2011, a special education aide in Ohio named Kelley Williams-Bolar spent nine days in jail after a records tampering conviction for sending her two daughters to the school district where her father lived.”

The industry set up to find and prosecute people for “stealing school” is estimated at “a multi-million dollar enterprise,” according to Rooks. This review from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook has more details about cases of “stealing school” and also discusses a few other examples of “segrenomics,” including: the publicly-funded, privately-operated “segregation academies” that sprouted in the South following Brown, Edison Schools in Pennsylvania (the first K-12 ed business to be publicly traded), and the growth of the cyber charter industry. Basically anything where people make money off school segregation without actually making it any better. 

If you aren’t familiar with Rook’s book, I recommend checking it out. And if you’ve read it or plan to read it, you might want to participate in an online book club hosted by Integrated Schools. They’ll be having two meetings on Sunday, Jan 28th and one on Monday, Jan 29th. And, this is awesome – Rooks herself will be there for each session.  

Lastly, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a webinar later this week, led by Erica Frankenberg on “the great social and academic benefits integrated schools can bring to communities and successful strategies happening in the field today.” It’s Wednesday, January 10th, from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM CST, and you can sign up here. If my work schedule allows, I’ll be attending and will include a summary in the next roundup.

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