Segregation, protest & a window for change: Model legislation from NCSD

A few weeks before Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) published a list of model state school integration policies. It was important then, but it takes on added significance in light of the protests that have followed Floyd’s murder, the heightened attention to racial justice and segregation, and repeated questions about what we can do to make things better in what might be a rare window for meaningful social change. In response, there’s been a proliferation of book lists, orgs to follow etc– all of this is great, and it should also include thoughtful consideration of how to change policy, especially when it comes to school segregation.

Brief reminder that, since 1988, the percentage of intensely segregated schools (>90% white or >90% students of color) has tripled, as detailed by Penn State’s Center for Education and Civil Rights (who hosts this blog) and the UCLA Civil Rights Project. That report also found that white students are the most isolated racial group in K-12 public education.

This isn’t unrelated to racial division around policing or even to police violence itself. As described by Will Stancil and Myron Orfield, George Floyd and Derek Chauvin might as well have lived on different planets. Writing from the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Metropolitan Opportunity (a group that tracks segregation in the twin cities), they show that Minneapolis essentially gave up on school integration policy and allowed schools to resegregate, leading to “societies where people can’t understand each other or work together.” Also published recently, but written before Floyd’s murder, Stancil has a related piece that goes into detail on changes to state policy regarding segregation and its effect on schools. A few quick notes from that:

  • “In a mere two decades, the number of intensely segregated school sites in the Twin Cities has grown almost five-fold, from 21 to over 100. In the same span, the region has produced dozens of schools with virtually no white students at all.”
  • “Of the region’s 50 most highly segregated schools, 45 are charters,” which is the subject of an ongoing state lawsuit

It’s a stark contemporary illustration of the famous line from Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in the 1974 Milliken case: “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.” And, the perhaps good news is that this was created – in large part – by policy, which means it can be undone by policy. 

Developed by leading researchers and advocates working on this issue, NCSD’s policy recommendations give a starting point for state level advocacy, both now and as preparation for when there are changes at the federal level. In the rest of this post, Jeremy Anderson summarizes key points from the report. As always, we’re interested in any thoughts/comments from readers- what might be missing? What would have the biggest impact in your community or school district? Feel free to reach out in comments or on twitter

A new brief from the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) proposes 6 model integration acts that can be used by state legislators. Each piece of legislation is based on longstanding federal desegregation policies, federal programs, state policies, and legal precedent. NCSD uses the structure of these prior federal policies and applies them to model state legislation, written in the kind of legalese necessary to translate directly to a concrete proposed policy. These acts also draw from the Strength in Diversity Act, which is a piece of legislation currently being considered by Congress.

In offering these proposals, NCSD is aware that state legislators are facing significant budget deficits, and education funding is projected to see substantial reductions. It is increasingly clear that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities already present in our schools. COVID-19 did not impact all communities equally. Like so many crises before, communities of color bore the brunt of the virus’s impact. NCSD describes their policy proposals, “represent small but meaningful steps that state legislatures can take to begin to bring students and communities back together.”

Below, I briefly summarize each of the acts presented in NCSD’s policy. For the sake of space, I tried to keep it to the main provisions of each bill. The proposed legislation includes much more specificity. I’m also going to include some of the additional learning from the policy brief as hyperlinks. These resources, in addition to providing excellent research and information, also provide context for the acts.

  • An act to support magnet schools
    • Magnet school programs designed to promote integration through admissions have been used by school districts as far back as 1965, though through the Department of Education. This act, similar to the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, provides for the expansion, assistance, and monitoring of magnet schools aimed at desegregating public schools at the state level. The model legislation describes school district eligibility requirements and the application process.
  • An act to promote interdistrict part-time and summer programs
    • Similar to the act to support magnet schools, this act sets up a competitive grant program for interdistrict part-time and summer programs that promote racial and socioeconomic integration. The act draws heavily from a similar program in Connecticut that assists LEAs with programs that “increase student achievement and reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation.” Camp Common Ground, based in California’s Bay Area, is a great example of this kind of program. 
  • An act to promote equitable student assignment in taxpayer-funded schools
    • Individual school districts that want to pursue integration have been met with legal uncertainty and, much more so in this administration, a lack of support from the federal government. There is a broad range of student assignment plans used by school districts. The effect of the plans on desegregation is still being studied. NCSD also has a list of resources for districts that want to pursue voluntary integration plans. However, this act addresses some of these issues by incentivizing LEAs to implement diversity minded student assignment plans through a competitive grant program. 
    • The program includes two sets of grants: planning grants and implementation grants. Planning grants require districts to study student assignment policies in comparable contexts and to evaluate their demographic data. The end goal of the grant is to develop an integrative student assignment policy with well-defined monitoring and benchmarks. The grant also involves engagement with the district community and professional development for district staff. The implementation grants ensure that the goals, engagement with the community, and monitoring outlined in the planning grant are met.
  • An act to set out procedures and requirements for new school construction
    • This act is really compelling because it attacks a root cause of segregation which is school construction and funding. School siting decisions have long been attached to increasing racial and socioeconomic segregation. As NCSD points out decisions on construction and funding have, “historically been used as tools to increase segregation.” The act requires any proposal for a new school must be approved by voters or a majority of the members of the governing boards of each district that would encompass the new school. The State Board of Education then reviews petitions for a host of conditions that include equitable division of property and ensuring that adequate amounts of funding will go to new and existing schools. The criteria also ensure that average property values of the region served by the new school will not substantially differ from the average property value of neighboring schools.
  • An act to set out procedures and requirements for district reorganization
    • School district secession has become, and increasingly problematic avenue for segregationists across the country that research has shown is accelerating school segregation. EdBuild has a helpful article with graphics to highlight areas of the country that this is happening. Some noteworthy cases have been in Jefferson, Mobile, and Montgomery AL, East Baton Rouge Parish LA, and Memphis-Shelby County TN.
    • This act is modeled after legislation from Arizona, California, and Wisconsin that set stricter requirements on districts trying to secede. This act also requires any petition for reorganization to be approved by district voters or a majority of the members of the boards for the affected district. Petitions would then need to be approved by the State Board of Education, subject to requirements relating to equity and diversity. Finally, the petition would require approval by the majority of voters in the proposed district.

We find ourselves at the confluence of difficult state education funding decisions and a growing public demand for racial justice. We know that during the Great Recession, segregation worsened the economic impact of the recession on communities of color, economic segregation deepened, and the achievement gap between white students and students of color grew. Whether it be the collapse of our housing markets or a funding crisis brought on by a pandemic, we will see future funding emergencies.

But, just because funding decisions will be difficult does not mean they can ignore racial justice. Really, there never seems to be enough funding for racial justice work- that’s likely not going to change any time soon. Meanwhile, the attention to antiracism makes this the perfect time for state legislators to put equality at the forefront of school funding decisions. As NCSD points out and COVID has made clear; schools play a more significant role in communities than just academics. And, we’re seeing a stunning shift in white public opinion about racial justice and a protest movement that is hopeful in its multi-racial makeup. Senator Chris Murphy, who introduced the Strength in Diversity Act in the Senate, posted a short, powerful video on twitter that connects the current crisis to school segregation, saying, in part “we have a ton of work ahead of us, in a whole bunch of different policy buckets, to make sure that this isn’t one of these moments when politicians listen without doing anything.” NCSD’s model legislation provides clear, concrete steps in that direction.

2 thoughts on “Segregation, protest & a window for change: Model legislation from NCSD

  1. Pingback: New Policy Brief: Model State School Integration Policies « The National Coalition on School Diversity

  2. Pingback: Accountability Systems & the Persistence of School Segregation | School Diversity Notebook

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