By Julissa Catalan
A new report by Journey for Justice (J4J)—an alliance made up of multiple grassroots organizations around the country that strive to improve public schooling—illustrates the affects of public-school closures in underrepresented communities.
Cities like Chicago—where 49 public schools were shut down last year, affecting 88 percent of enrolled Black students and where 40 percent of all students are Black—and New York are noted as the most affected, because they have some of the largest numbers of Blacks and Latinos and also the highest rate of school closures around the country, with more than 100 each in recent years.
Elsewhere, 98 percent of public-school students in Detroit are Black and Latino—and 204 schools have been closed since 2000, resulting in an enrollment drop of 63 percent over the last seven years. Meanwhile, charter-school enrollment is up 53 percent.
The most eye-opening example is in New Orleans, where almost all public schools have been shut down and replaced with publicly funded but privately operated charter schools. Per the report, more than 4,000 students have been left without schooling and are unlikely to re-enroll in a new program, resulting in a “path to failure.”
“It’s ironic that those pushing school choice as school reform are taking away our choice,” parent and activist Karran Harper Royal told The Washington Post. “Most African-American parents in New Orleans don’t have the choice of neighborhood schools, unlike their white counterparts. If you’re white, you have a better chance to attend a neighborhood school you can walk to. If you’re Black, you have very little chance.”
The report calls out charter-school advocates specifically for contributing to the acceleration of public-school shutdowns.
While parents and teachers in support of the public-education system have protested closings in their respective areas, charter-school supporters point to the decline in attendance and academic performance as the real reason for public-school closings. They believe charter schools are simply replacing the already declining institutions with a more effective alternative.
“Unfortunately, too many kids in America have their destiny determined by a zip code, because too many kids have to walk into schools where they don’t have a meaningful chance to succeed,” Representative Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a charter-school supporter, told VOXXI. “Charter schools are one of the ways that we can empower families and help them have the ability to pick the best option for their kids.”
“School closures are happening in different places for different reasons,” New York University Professor of Education Pedro Noguera told The Huffington Post. “In Philadelphia, there have been huge cuts; in New York, you have policies set in place by [former Mayor Michael] Bloomberg. To some degrees it varies, but ultimately the general impact is consistent: School closures are happening in poor communities of color. … This report is calling attention to something that is most definitely happening. It’s not an exaggeration.”