By all accounts the Wake County School District in North Carolina defies the conventional wisdom of public schools. Some of its best and most diverse schools existed in low income neighborhoods of Raleigh while the suburban districts include children whose parents can’t afford to live in the neighborhood. But if national tea party conservatives have their way, one of the nation’s most celebrated integration efforts will end.
That’s because the new majority-Republican school board, backed by the national tea party groups want to concentrate poor children into just a few schools by allowing children to only attend their neighborhood school.
The effort is seen as the first organized tea party push-back to government-sponsored integration in public schools and one that has put the district squarely in the center of a debate many thought ended with Brown v. Board of Education–that is the idea that diversity and equality in education are essential to one another.
The move already faces legal challenge as the NAACP has filed a civil rights complaint alleging that 700 initial student transfers have already increased racial segregation and violate laws that prohibit the use of federal funds for discriminatory purposes. Federal education officials have also visited the county, leading many to believe a federal investigation is around the corner.
One of the underreported tragedies in this story is that, prior to the meddling from national tea party interests, the school board and its integration policies was the beneficiary of strong bi-partisan support. Both Republican and Democratic leaders recognized the value in making sure all children in their district, regardless of income or geographic location, benefited from a diverse education experience. Both poor and wealthy students did well in the schools, despite the large size of the district and its sprawling boundaries.
With actions like these the veneer that the tea party interests are anything other than racist wears thin. It’s not as if our education system has not experimented with segregated schools in the past and this move is some genuine effort at innovating districts. Instead, it is a concerted effort to turn back the clock to a time when academic access, achievement and success remained largely elusive to those not fortunate enough to be born wealthy and white.
photo courtesy of Frerieke via Flickr