Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Affirmative Action part 1

So, I hinted on the Weblog that I might do some posts on affirmative action here and, well, that's what I'm about to do. The issue is a hot topic now as the Supreme Court just heard cases on this subject. Dahlia Lithwick tells the story in Slate. There are plenty of other sources for comment as well.

I'm a firm believer in affirmative action and I think it is underutilized in today's America. I work in civil rights, fair housing specifically, and I know from my daily work that people of color, women, and people with disabilities do not have the same opportunities that their more privileged counterparts enjoy.

The Supreme Court case is about school desegregation. Unlike other forms of desegregation, racially mixed schools have been a high priority for government and community leaders ever since Brown 52 years ago. However, the history of school desegregation since Brown has largely been one of slow movement to integrate, followed by a serious Supreme Court setback against integration, followed by re-segregation to a point where predominantly minority schools are worse today than they were in 1954.

When Brown was decided, many southern school districts were the first targets of desegregation. However, segregated schools could be found throughout the nation. The primary difference being that southern states and cities had laws encouraging segregation while northern and midwestern states and cities simply had enforced housing patterns that created segregated school districts. The southern districts delayed integration as long as possible. Some never integrated until the 1980s. The northern districts took a long time too.

In Detroit, there was a case that made its way to the Supreme Court. Milliken v. Bradley dealt a huge blow to integration efforts. The narrow 5-4 decision declared that "[w]ith no showing of significant violation by the 53 outlying school districts and no evidence of any interdistrict violation or effect," there could be no interjurisdictional remedy. This was a short-sighted ruling for a number of reasons. For one, it did not account for the "passive" resistance to integration of suburban communities (and their corresponding school districts). Also, it did not account for the fact that no real integration effort could be attained solely within the City of Detroit. Finally, it provided near-sovereignty to schools districts in a way that had never previously been given to local governments. The result was prototypical pattern of segregation that persisted throughout the 1970s and 1980s -- an urban/suburban dichotomy.

After Milliken, desegregation efforts were limited at best. For instance, Chicago Public Schools has a white population of less than 10% of its students. Whites have largely abandoned the public school system for private schools. Thus, even though CPS works toward desegregation, its best case scenario would be to have white students make up 8% of each school.

The pattern of segregation has changed a bit since the 1980s. Now, many suburban communities and school districts face the same dilemmas that Chicago faces. They have very small white populations. Worse, yet, they have very limited fiscal resources due to disinvestment from the business community. Meanwhile, their small populations make them ineligible for direct federal funding.

As a result, the current segregation in schools is worse than it ever has been. Meanwhile middle class minorities have had some success moving out of predominantly minority communities.
Thus, those minority school districts are also poor school districts.

The Louisville case is especially important here. Louisville has a metropolitan government. This should make Milliken's ban on interjurisdictional remedies irrelevant. But, in both cases, there needs to be some acceptance that because people have unequal opportunity due to their race, there necessarily needs to be corrective measures in place to provide equal opportunity to minorities and other protected persons.


Matt said...

So what are some solutions? I suspect an evaluation of how the district lines have been drawn would help in some places, but certainly not everywhere.

Also, did Louisville re-draw school district lines? I realize their metro government would allow them to more easily fix segregation, but I wouldn't be surprised if the suburbs there only agreed to that style of government after they were assured the school districts would be left alone. I don't know the history of their process; I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised if that's how it went.

Rob Breymaier said...

Well, since school segregation is largely derivative of housing segregation, the real solution would be to enforce and promote housing integration.

In the meantime, I think school funding from the federal and state governments should highly favor predominantly minority and poor school districts. I'd prioritize as follows (%s might need adjusting):

1. Poor minority districts (40% of all funds)
2. Poor non-minority districts (30%)
3. non-poor minority districts (20%)
4. non-poor non-minority districts (10%)

This would do a couple things. First, it would get the money where its needed most. Second, it would equalize the relative tax burden gap between rich white districts and poor black districts.

Currently, rich white communities in the Chicago suburbs have about 45 times the tax capacity that poor black districts have. And, this is with lower tax rates than are found in the black districts. It is a direct result of the business disinvestment in black communities. If they taxed at the same rate, the white communities would generate 30 times more revenue.

Rob Breymaier said...

Actually, you could probably lower the amount for priorities 2 and three to 20 and 15 percent since there aren't as many of them. That could increase 1 to 50% and 4 to 15%.