Segregation resonates in today’s schools | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Segregation resonates in today’s schools

Jim Scripps, Tahoe Daily Tribune Managing Editor

Today marks the anniversary of one of the great turning points in American History. Fifty years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated desegregation in the case of (Linda) Brown v. Board of Education, a Topeka, Kansas, case.

Anniversaries like this remind us how far we’ve come in 50 years; how much progress we’ve made in human rights, and social justice, and generally, how our society has evolved to improve itself.

Desegregation, it turns out has been a hard nut to crack.

City, suburban and rural segregation exists naturally, and it’s reflected in schools. Inner-city schools, for example, have black and other minority populations larger than the general population. Schools in wealthy, suburban neighborhoods, have greater numbers of whites. Whites’ opportunities extend to college, where they have greater representation than in the general population.

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For the Supreme Court to call for desegregation made common sense, but that court, and indeed society at that time, could not have predicted future mitigating factors like suburbanization and an increasing rich-poor income gap. Schools are no longer segregated (if defined as the purposeful separation of races), but segregation (the state of being segregated) continues to exist, and history tells us it will take more than simple bussing of students to give all children equal educational opportunity.

Fifty years of perspective on Brown v. Board of Education teaches us that equality of opportunity is the big issue the court was trying to address. Put in those terms, it resonates locally as South Lake Tahoe grapples with its own demons. Here, “segregation” for the year 2004 seems to be school funding, plain and simple.

While schools regroup from the resounding defeat of Measure L – a tax measure designed to provide emergency funding for schools – there seems to be little wiggle room, and big, HUGE, cuts are on the way. Teachers will lose their jobs, schools will be closed, and extracurricular programs will be slashed. Public schools in South Lake Tahoe will have a world of struggle in the years to come.

Segregation, 2004, is knocking on the door.

South Lake Tahoe’s situation has a lot to do with dynamics that are hard to control.

We live in a resort community, a place that has become a destination for older, second homeowners. Escalating property values, and a small local professional community (high-paying jobs are hard to find) are pricing young families out of the market. The income gap is growing – it’s all around us – and young families often fall into the bottom part of that gap.

The newer, older, wealthier residents don’t want to pass bond measures and new taxes – they’ve had their kids, and they already feel overtaxed.

Home ownership, the keystone for most families’ financial futures, is unattainable for many, so they go elsewhere.

As families move away, schools miss out on the funding that child would have brought (A formula based on Average Daily Attendance, and a huge part of the budget), and enrollment declines.

As school funding continues to drop (relative to the increased costs of providing public education), parents see problems growing in schools, and have further incentive to move out of the area or to different school districts, for the sake of their children.

These problems became increasingly apparent last week, as school officials discussed cuts in athletic funding, a sacred part of childhood development but also a big chunk of school budgets.

Equality of opportunity, a constitutional imperative and mandate of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, is suffering here. When they look back 50 years from now and study what we did for our children in the pursuit of equality of opportunity, will they see a concerted community effort to improve children’s futures? Will they see failure? Will they see segregation, 2054, knocking on the door?

– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be reached at jscripps@tahoedailytribune.com


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