Alabama court ruling stirs school district secession debate

Dive Brief:

  • A recent Alabama court ruling determined that the majority-white city of Gardendale could secede from the majority-black school district it belonged to; the secession marks the 36th in the country since 2000, with most of the seceding towns being more white and more wealthy, according to U.S. News and World Report.
  • Thirty states in total allow districts to secede, but only 17 of those states require that districts consider the impact on students, while only six require that districts consider how the splits could impact socioeconomic factors and diversity and only nine require a study of the financial impact.
  • Due to the intense housing segregation throughout the country, many view public schools as a venue where true integration is a challenge. The moves have also mirrored an increase in economic power of parent teacher associations, whose revenues have tripled in size to $425 million since the mid-90s.

Dive Insight:

These splits are artificially creating the difficulties with revenue generation that plagues underfunded public schools in low-income school districts. With much of the revenue generated by local property taxes, a low tax base could lead remaining taxpayers to flee the district, creating an unending cycle. But these secessions create an underfunded school district by decision as opposed to economic reality. The lack of diversity could also be problematic; the country’s housing segregation issue makes it difficult enough to achieve diversity in zoned schools, and research indicates that there are a wide array of benefits for students in integrated schools, including increased average test scores and a higher likeliness to enroll in college.

Schools are becoming increasingly more segregated across the country. Some of this is likely due to economic pressures and continued housing segregation, but educators and legislators must also be wary of how the quality of schools can be weaponized in attempts to keep diversity down. Some worry that discussions of school districts have become proxy discussions about the racial makeup of neighborhoods, with parents engaged in an inadvertent and de facto form of redlining. Secessions like the case of Alabama only exacerbate these problems, so concerned educators might pressure legislators to make the requirements for secession more stringent, to include analyses of the socio economic and financial effects of a split.

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Filed Under: K12