School Choice Perpetuates Segregation, Keeps Graduation Rates Stagnant

Education
Racial Equity

In 1959, Prince Edward County in Virginia shut down all of its public schools in a drastic move to avoid desegregation.

White communities used public funds to create a voucher system which allowed them to send their children to all-white private schools while black communities were left with few options. Although some black families were able to cross state lines so their kids could receive a formal education, most did not have the means to do so. The seniors who lost the opportunity to graduate from high school during the shut-down were famously referred to as the “Lost Class of ‘59.”  When schools finally opened up again in 1964, there were 10-year-old children who didn’t know how to a hold a pencil – they were never taught.

In theory, voucher programs are designed to give low-income students more educational opportunities by allowing parents to use state education funds to enroll their children in private schools. However, studies have shown that, despite the best intentions, school vouchers have actually increased segregation in schools. American schools are more segregated now than they were in 1968.

There is no evidence to suggest “school choice” has had a significant impact on students’ achievement. In fact, recent research indicates that vouchers have done nothing to improve student test scores or graduation rates. These studies have led to widespread disapproval of the school voucher system, prompting Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) to say in a recent briefing: “I used to say the average vouchers program was average. But, with the new research, I now think that the average voucher program is below average.

Both President Trump and Secretary DeVos are big supporters of school vouchers.  They claim “choice” should be the top priority. This isn’t surprising; it’s in line with their party’s views of individualism as a core American value.  However, neither has confronted the racist history of the “school choice” movement.

It’s impossible to ignore the negative data when it comes to school choice: it leads to lower graduation rates and contributes to school segregation.

According to William Frey, an internationally-recognized demographer featured at the 2016 First Focus Children’s Budget Summit, today’s youth are considerably more diverse than previous generations. It’s imperative that we make deliberate policy decisions to actively combat segregation. He suggested we should focus on creating innovative educational programs that dismantle oppressive systems – rather than reinforcing ithem – so that all children, regardless of zip code, have an equal chance for a quality education.