GAO Report Suggests US Schools Are Resegregating

(Photo: AP, Rudolph Faircloth)

(Photo: AP, Rudolph Faircloth)

Sixty-two years after the Supreme Court ruled that America’s schools must be integrated, schools nationwide show increasing evidence of resegregating along lines of race and income.

The Government Accountability Office released a report that showed the number of schools that were segregated along racial and financial lines more than doubled over a 13 year period. In 2000, 7,009 public schools were classified as poor and racially segregated. By 2014, that number had climbed to 15,089, which means that 16% of the nation’s schools are segregated. A ranking member of the House Committee on Education, Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat of Virginia, requested the report in 2014.

The report found that 61% of schools with high concentrations of low-income students were racially segregated, with at least three-quarters of their student bodies being comprised of black or Latino students. Additionally, Emma Brown of The Washington Post notes that the number of the most intensively segregated schools, which are comprised of 90% of low-income students and students of color, more than doubled over this period.

Joy Resmovits of The Los Angeles Times reports that segregation negatively impacts students’ academic and social development. Students in segregated schools have less access to college classes, are disproportionally held back, exhibit low enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, and faced higher rates of suspension and expulsion.

Given these bleak findings, House Democrats are proposing The Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act. This legislation would restore parents’ rights to sue segregated school districts under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it would create monitors that will investigate discrimination complains and an assistant secretary of education to oversee such charges. Similarly, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. has sounded the alarm, saying that there is a “new urgency” around issues of race in public schools.

To combat the problem, the report recommends that the U.S. Department of Education step up its monitoring of discrepancies between schools. There are currently 178 open desegregation cases based on court orders from 30 to 40 years ago.

“Segregation is getting worse, and getting worse quickly, with more than 20 million students of color now attending racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools,” says Rep. Scott said in a statement. “This report is a national call to action, and I intend to ensure Congress is part of the solution.”

The issue of resegregation has flown under the radar while the public’s attention has been subsumed by standardized testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and Common Core standards. Resegregation can happen incidentally as a result of demographic groups relocating to different school districts, or it can happen intentionally. The report, as described by NBC News, details several incidents in which magnet schools refused to accept minority students in order to maintain an even ratio between white and minority students.

The legacy of segregation in American public schools was spotlighted last week when a judge in Mississippi ordered a district to integrate its schools after a five-decade long court battle. The sheer persistence of segregation signifies that it will be a multigenerational problem that will demand political, cultural, and financial investments to resolve.