School Choice

Racially Motivated School-Secession Case Shows Need for Expanded School Choice

The NAACP has filed an appeal to stop the secession, on the grounds that race was an underlying factor in creating the new school district.

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flickr/dhendrix73

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has filed a federal-court appeal to stop the city of Gardendale, Alabama, from secceding from the Jefferson County School District.

Last April, Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that the city of Gardendale could separate and create their own school district, despite the fact that "race was a motivating factor" on the part of some city officials and residents.

Officially, Gardendale leaders and residents say they just want local control of their schools and don't want to send their tax dollars to schools that their children don't attend. But, as is often the case with such endeavors, the area trying to secede is more affluent and white than the district they're trying to leave, meaning secession would further exacerbate school segregation along racial lines.

School secession is by no means a new phenomenon, but this case in particular touches on all the contentious points that typically accompany such separations.

In the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, school secession became a way to avoid desegregation orders that were placed on many of the nation's larger school districts. Creating new districts often meant that the desegregation orders no longer applied, and new court orders were unlikely since these new districts seldom had a significant number of minority students to integrate.

The legacy of this practice can clearly be seen on school district maps across the country. Many districts look like their gerrymandered congressional counterparts: bizarre in shape and each serving specific segregated demographic groups. In particular, urban areas, many of which are still plagued by the legacy of government redlining, have the most egregious gerrymandered school-district boundaries.

None of these lines would matter, of course, if one's residence did not determine where one goes to school.

Many strides have been made in this regard over the past few decades, thanks to the growth of charter schools and vouchers. Still, families in many places remain stuck with their local public school as the only option.

Alabama does have two school choice programs: a tax credit and a state education scholarship. But the number of students helped by these programs is relatively small.

What makes the Gardendale case even worse is that Alabama's school finance formula is woefully outdated and inefficient at distributing funds. Rather than having funds follow the student, money is allocated based on resources (teachers, etc.). This is a boon for more affluent districts that can raise more local tax dollars and hire more teachers, but disastrous for districts that serve more low-income areas.

From a libertarian perspective, the ruling to allow Gardendale's secession may seem perfectly justified, given the area's understandable desire for local autonomy. After all, locals should know how to spend their tax dollars better than county officials who may not live in the city. There's also an understandable aversion to government encouraging diversity for diversity's sake, which is often the perception of things like mandated busing to achieve racial integration.

Despite all of this, school secession still does far more harm than good. It further entrenches the idea that where you live should determine where you go to school, trapping kids who attend poor-performing schools. That's not something that any advocate of expanded school choice could reasonably support.

Gardendale's decision to cordon itself off from Jefferson County is merely a perpetuation of the exclusionary nature of America's public education system: these are our schools, not yours. Ideally, students from the rest of Jefferson County should be able to attend Gardendale schools if poorly served by their local school. In turn, Gardendale residents should be able to send their kids to schools like Jefferson County's International Baccalaureate School, consistently ranked as one of the best public high schools in the country.

When schools can compete with each other, good schools thrive, bad schools eventually shut down, and all students have better access to a good education. On the other hand, when district boundary lines limit student options, schools in both affluent and low-income areas have little incentive to improve.

Being a part of a large urban district with some poor-performing schools did not diminish the academic quality of my high school. In fact, with the district's policy of open enrollment (students can attend any school within the district, not just the school closest to them), my high school's enrollment swelled as more students who otherwise might have been zoned to go to a failing school closer to their home were now able to receive a better education. That's the power of the free market at work.

What's disappointing about the Gardendeale case (and others like it) is that ensuring that all children have access to good schools seemed to be a side issue. Messaging surrounding secession seemingly had more to do with race than anything else. As documented in Haikala's ruling, one of the first public statements from a pro-separation organizer discussed how "a municipal system would give Gardendale 'better control over the geographic composition of the student body.'" Other residents worried about how Gardendale's schools might change if left within the Jefferson County School District. "Would you like to live in Center Point or Adamsville [predominantly black areas]? . . . think about how quickly an area's demographics change," commented one resident on the school Facebook page.

By no means were all residents chiefly concerned about the school's racial demographics, but it's clear from the communication between some residents, organizers, and city officials that race was definitely an overriding factor. Haikala concluded her ruling with a scathing critique of the Gardendale School Board, writing that "the messages of inferiority in the record in this case assail the dignity of black school children." Yet she still begrudgingly allowed the separation to go forward.

Whether the NAACP will successfully get this ruling overturned remains to be seen, but if they do succeed it may set a precedent for future school secession cases. It would be a very welcome development. More school choice, not less, is the key to success.

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  1. None of these lines would matter, of course, if one’s residence did not determine where one goes to school.

    I am very troubled by the deep-racism expressed in this sentence.

      1. It’s like being in King County gives us super-human abilities to notice injustice and dog whistles.

  2. It’s a good thing you clarified that the area trying to secede was the white area, otherwise I wouldn’t know whether or not the race-based secessionist movement was a good or bad thing. Segregation is okay when it’s blacks keeping out the whites simply because they’re white, the other way around is racism and that would be wrong.

    1. Well, yea. Whites moving out of a neighborhood is ‘white flight’ and that’s bad. Whites moving in to a neighborhood is gentrification and that’s bad. Whites are just bad. And don’t you dare call me racist for being racist against whites!

      1. Gentrification is about poor folks getting pushed out of their neighborhoods due to increasing rents and prices. However, many are critical of how they use the new inhabitants use their affluence and privilege to alter the cultural traditions of those neighborhoods.

        1. However, many are critical of how they use the new inhabitants use their affluence and privilege to alter the cultural traditions of those neighborhoods.

          Sounds ethnonationalist to me!

    2. Can you provide any instance of non-white Americans seeking to use public resources to create their own racially motivated, segregated school or township?

  3. Officially, Gardendale leaders and residents say they just want local control of their schools and don’t want to send their tax dollars to schools that their children don’t attend.

    This is perfectly reasonable.

    But, as is often the case with such endeavors, the area trying to secede is more affluent and white than the district they’re trying to leave, meaning secession would further exacerbate school segregation along racial lines.

    And?

    From a libertarian perspective, the ruling to allow Gardendale’s secession may seem perfectly justified, given the area’s understandable desire for local autonomy…There’s also an understandable aversion to government encouraging diversity for diversity’s sake…

    Correct. This should be the entire premise of the article. But Reason would rather race-bait.

    1. Maybe you should read the paragraph after that, where the premise of the article actually lies:

      Despite all of this, school secession still does far more harm than good. It further entrenches the idea that where you live should determine where you go to school, trapping kids who attend poor-performing schools. That’s not something that any advocate of expanded school choice could reasonably support.

      But commenter would rather racewhine

      1. the idea that where you live should determine where you go to school

        An idea that enjoys very wide support across America. Good luck changing that.

        1. There are so many entrenched interests who want to keep the status quo and not just state/county workers, but the real estate industry, textbook publishers, etc.

        2. Let out of district students attend and, like universities, charge nonresident tuition.

          1. That’s what my school district did. And it wasn’t some snooty racist one, it was a big city district that just happened to have one of the country’s top schools in it.

            I’m all for maximizing school choice, and I’m all for a group of folks banding together to form their “own” school for whatever the hell reason they want to. There’s no contradiction there. This post seems to be implying it’s an either/or choice.

            1. Sure, these people can form their own school. If they don’t want black kids attending their school they can start a private school. But you can’t racially discriminate when it comes to public resources and institutions.

        3. My grandson just started kindergarten in our local school, part of a larger District but serving our local community. He has several friends from day care with him, and they will go through high school together (assuming nobody moves away). It reinforces friendships and social connections in our community, which is a big part of what keeps out community bonded.

          Oh, is it discriminatory? Two of his friends are girls, one is black, one is Hispanic. So, no. It’s only discriminatory in that none of us like living in the big city and CHOOSE a smaller town with smaller schools and continuity of friends and associates.

          To Reason: Remember you are a libertarian voice and let people make their choices and take the consequences, be what they may. Stop finding excuses to jump on the SJW train.

      2. But commenter would rather racewhine

        Would you feel better if he were just morally and logically consistent?

        My ‘team’ leaving doesn’t actively (or passively) trap you or your ‘team’ anywhere and, trapping more people because some are trapped isn’t any sort of good or better outcome either. Fucked if they stay, fucked if they take the ball and leave, fucked if they leave the ball and leave.

        1. Sit down, shut up, keep fucking outperforming and sharing all your stuff you flaming racist assholes!

        2. It does when it is taking public resources away from the other “team”. Though I thought all Americans were on the same team. Apparently not these southern whites.

          1. There is no such thing as public resources in this context. You say these things as if others have more of a claim to an individual’s resources than the individual themselves.

      3. No. This is classic libertarian navel gazing. Bad to work within the system when we should be trying to smash the system!

  4. Can Greece sue if the EU tries to leave it?

  5. There’s also an understandable aversion to government encouraging diversity for diversity’s sake, which is often the perception of things like mandated busing to achieve racial integration.

    Ben’s internship must be just about over. Good job pissing in Reason‘s cocktails on the way out!

    1. “mandated busing”

      Sounds like freedom to me!

  6. “But, as is often the case with such endeavors, the area trying to secede is more affluent and white than the district they’re trying to leave, meaning secession would further exacerbate school segregation along racial lines.”

    It’s a fundamental problem of collectivism–projecting motives onto a group of people that don’t apply to every individual. That’s why markets are so awesome–’cause individuals can represent themselves through their choices in a market.

    Did you know that the Civil War was all about slavery? Yup, 2 million soldiers in the Union Army, 1 million in the Confederate Army–they were all of one mind. I can’t get four people to agree on where to go to lunch, but every single one of 3 million of them agreed that the war was all about slavery. And if you don’t believe that, then you’re a stupid redneck.

    The problem with not allowing individual voters to make a decision about their own school district is bigger than school choice. The problem is that the old conundrum of whether a democracy, like the Weimer Republic, should be allowed to vote itself out of existence is being extended far beyond its bounds–to include the question of whether individual voters should be free to vote for things that aren’t in everyone’s best interests.

    1. *Prepares rope to pull down Ken Schultz’s lunch statue.*

    2. Similarly – and there’s a lot to complain about here – there’s this bit of nonsense:

      What’s disappointing about the Gardendeale case (and others like it) is that ensuring that all children have access to good schools seemed to be a side issue.

      How dare these racists want a better for themselves.

      1. better *school*

      2. IF they want better, they can always pool their own money and start a private school.

    3. It’s a fundamental problem of collectivism–projecting motives onto a group of people that don’t apply to every individual…I can’t get four people to agree on where to go to lunch, but every single one of 3 million of them agreed that the war was all about slavery. And if you don’t believe that, then you’re a stupid redneck.

      Consider this comment stolen for use elsewhere.

    4. The whole decision for this group of people to try to create new district is an example of collectivism. Hell, democracy itself is a form of collectivism. Where is the individual choice in the collect of creating a new district, which requires collective resources.
      Doesn’t matter what every individual soldier was fighting for, because they weren’t fighting for their own individual interests, they were fighting for the interest of their respective state (A collective body) and their guiding leaders. And the leaders of one collective state made it clear that the state the formed was done out of the fear that the other state would ban slavery as a legal institution.

  7. Theoretically, there is a system of government in which individuals aren’t free to make any choices that might negatively impact other people. It’s called “totalitarian communism”. I say it’s only theoretical because it’s actually unworkable in reality. In reality, everything we do (or don’t do) negatively impacts other people in some way.

    If I don’t eat at McDonalds for lunch, I’m hurting them, but if I do, I’m hurting someone else. I guess that’s why we need Liz Warren to tell us what to do and what not to do. Either that, or we need to be free to make choices for ourselves–even if our choices sometimes adversely impact other people.

    There’s clearly a difference between voters adversely impacting other people by forming a new school district and violating someone’s rights.

    1. “There’s clearly a difference between voters adversely impacting other people by forming a new school district and violating someone’s rights.”

      In case anybody’s as slow as Tony, the difference is that people who don’t want others to form a new school district are still free to make choices for themselves regarding their own school district and how they vote.

      1. Yea, but they want people from the other district to fund both districts.

        1. Thank you!

    2. Except, any decision as it concerns public goods can not be made based on racial discrimination. That’s clear from our constitution. If these people wanted their own school to do as they please, to have absolute local control, they could just create their private school.

  8. “Whether the NAACP will successfully get this ruling overturned remains to be seen, but if they do succeed it may set a precedent for future school secession cases. It would be a (very welcome development). MORE SCHOOL CHOICE, not less, is the key to success.”

    Ok, so they vote themselves more school choice, by forming their own school district. You say, paraphrased: “a very welcome development would be if they get shut down” or forced to have less school choice, right before you say more school choice is the key to success.

    I can’t wait till we get the (Ready Player One) style virtual schools and neither your location, nor the size and condition of any physical building or it’s supplies have anything to do with a child’s education.

    1. No, it’s not about school choice. They just want to prevent black kids from going to school with their kids.

      1. I hope somebody told them that, they might not even know that was the reason they did it.

  9. Is this the racist’s veto where their bad statements can compel others?

    Has there ever been an example of a poor section seceding from a rich one?

    I am baffled by the idea that the state gives money as a proportion of what you spend and not a function of how many students. Eegads.

  10. Why would more school choice change the equation? Racially motivated secession or racially motivated school choice would still deprive public schools of needed funding.

  11. school secession still does far more harm than good. It further entrenches the idea that where you live should determine where you go to school

    I don’t think it does, any more than that any particip’n in democratic action entrenches democracy. This is the option people were given; it’s not as if choosing from among presented choices limits the list of choices. Would taking the option to home-school according to what’s permitted entrench the idea that gov’t should determine ed requirements?

  12. I don’t understand the argument that this city must lose a vital right because any fool can yell racist.

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