The New Way Towns Are Segregating Schools
By Chris Hoenig
Part of Baton Rouge, La., wants to segregate the city’s schools, and residents are working on a completely legal method to do so.
People who live in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish are looking to create their own city and public-school district to separate themselves from the poorer neighborhoods in the parishand schools within them. Split supporters say the existing district performs so poorly that state monitors have been brought in, while opponents say it’s only going to cause bigger problems.
“It’s going to devastate us,” 45-year-old Tania Nyman, who has two elementary-age children in the Baton Rouge system, told Bloomberg,com. “They’re not only going to take the richer white kids out of the district, they are going to take their money out of it.”
The public-school district currently spends an average of $9,635 on each of its approximately 42,000 students. According to three economics professors at Louisiana State University, which is located in Baton Rouge, funding for the remaining students would drop to $8,870 per student, a number only buoyed by an increase in state aid because of the lower average-income level of the redrawn district. The new district’s per-pupil spending, meanwhile, would jump to $11,686.
“Every affluent community in the state will want to create their own little school system,” said Carnell Washington, President of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers. “They are taking money away that would help the entire school system and the entire city.”
The current districtwhich is 80 percent Black, and where 82 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price school luncheshas struggled for more than a decade. The dropout rate for the 20112012 school year was 20 percent, and 60 percent of the district’s students attended a school that was ranked as failing or almost failing.
“Baton Rouge is one of the best job markets around, and the middle class is moving out,” said Republican State Senator Mack “Bodi” White. “Those who stay have their kids in private schools.”
The new city, to be called St. George, is looking to join other Southern communities that have legally segregated their schools. In 2012, residents of Brookhaven, Ga., decided to incorporate what had been a mostly white neighborhood in the 55 percentBlack DeKalb County into their own town. The move allowed the 49,000 residents to explore school districts with other mostly white communities, pulling tax dollars from the county-wide school district.
Last year, Gardendale, Ala., residents approved an increase in property taxes in order to start their own public-school district, setting up one of now 13 separate districts within Jefferson County. Gardendale’s population is 88 percent white, while more than 42 percent of Jefferson County residents are Black.
When Memphis, Tenn.’s mostly Black schools merged with the county district, which is mostly white, last year, Republicans in the statehouse repealed a decades-old ban on new schools districts. Six mostly white suburbs quickly launched their own districts, paid for by an increase in sales tax. Near Dallas, an affluent area is considering incorporating into its own municipality, to be known as White Rock, which would include its own school district.