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School reform bills to help districts achieve unitary status

Lost in the shuffle about the major changes that would come in Louisiana education with passage of reform bills is how these alterations can assist in allowing school districts exiting from consent decrees or desegregation orders.

Beginning over three decades ago, many districts in the state found themselves embroiled in one of these kinds of federal court-administered programs, coming about because of pervasive histories of racial discrimination in these jurisdictions. An order comes from a judicial determination of constitutional violation, where the court lays down standards and may issue remedies to achieve them, with monitoring. A decree is where a district voluntarily undertakes actions, approved by the supervising court, designed to correct for a constitutional problem alleged by plaintiffs in exchange for their halting a suit against the district, where failure to do so would lead to revival of the case.

Unitary status is achieved when a court decides six factors (student assignment, faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities) indicating minority student populations have been segregated into presumed inferior education opportunities have been addressed to the extent indicating that the school district had eliminated the vestiges of what had been legalized segregation, allowing dissolving of the order or decree. The pace has been slow in Louisiana; 59 of the state’s 69 districts have been subject to one of these, and only 16 of them had exited them as of 2007.

However, aspects of HB 976, which would allow students in poorest performing schools priority in receiving state money to pay for attending private or better out-of-district public schools and would streamline the process for charter school creation, hold real promise in accelerating this slow trend. This is because one measure of constitutional violation is having (near) mono-racial schools, which then places a greater burden of proof on districts to demonstrate schools whose populations almost entirely are comprised of minority students are not being shortchanged. By moving towards more multi-racial schools, by itself that eliminates the charge that majority-population schools are favored over minority-population ones, because neither exist.

HB 976 would allow students at low-performing schools to exit those and go to better ones, either private or out-of-district public. And the sad fact is the vast majority of lower-performing schools in the state are mono-racial, specifically with very high proportions of black students (as a quick perusal of the latest list of failing schools shows). Thus, when a student transfers out of one of those with the assistance of a scholarship voucher, it likely would be a minority student, reducing the overall proportion of minorities in that school. And if that voucher is used to go a school in another district, there’s a good chance that might be at a mono-racial school of mostly white students, creating a double benefit for the purposes of gaining unitary status if one or both districts are under court order.

Caddo and Bossier Parishes provide an excellent example. Many schools are failing in Caddo, none (except alternative ones) in Bossier, and both are under court order. Presumably black students mainly would be in position to use vouchers to get out of inferior and highly mono-racially black Caddo Schools, making those more multi-racial, while some may go over to Bossier, diluting the populations of their succeeding schools, all of which have a high proportion of white students. In both cases, thusly achieving unitary status would become easier on at least four of the criteria (assignment, transportation, activities, and facilities). If the changes also facilitate charter school formation, this also could increase the establishment of multi-racial schools, as charter schools have no attendance boundaries.

While HB 976 (and its companion SB 597) have many laudatory aspects, overlooked has been the impact they may have on districts’ ability to gain unitary status. Following these orders costs districts time and money to meet supervisory requirements and sometimes presents aggravations to families, so anything that accomplishes the goals of the orders without the monitoring costs constitutes good public policy.

1 comment:

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

The fact that in 2012 schools in this state are still de facto segregated is a total disgrace, the sort that eclipses most of the other crap you whine about on a daily basis around here. Louisianans should be embarrassed that your state needs to be told to desegregate, and needs to be forced to do so, and that when forced to it only does as little as possible under the rule. Louisiana is backwards in this sense (and some others). So should we now allow the same group of arch conservatives who gave us segregation in the first place to tell us that they're ready to break free of desegregation orders in order to best achieve it on their own?