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Federal Subsidies for School Segregation

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It’s not just you who is independently deciding to put Maddie and Connor in segregated schools, though indeed you are largely doing that. The federal government is incentivizing you to do so through it’s obscene Charter Schools Program.

The Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes charter schools and the privatization of public education, has published several reports in recent years on waste and fraud by schools that received program grants.

Here is a new piece from the executive director of that group investigating this question: Is the federal charter schools program financing white-flight academies? She is Carol Burris, a former prizewinning principal in New York who has long chronicled school reform, charter schools and the privatization movement on this blog. NPE communications director Darcie Cimarusti assisted with the research.

North Carolina’s private Hobgood Academy opened its doors in September of 1970. For decades, the overwhelmingly White private school, located near a public school whose students are overwhelmingly Black (90 percent), served as a haven for White families willing to pay tuition rather than send their children to an integrated public school.

However, the privilege of segregation came with a cost — $5,000 a year in tuition that parents decided taxpayers should assume. As North Carolina teacher Justin Parmenter explains here, the academy’s parents created a Google site called “Let’s Charter Hobgood” to band together and convert the private academy to a charter school. In what looks like an attempt to allay any fears that the charter might be forced to integrate, the following was posted: “No current law forces any diversity whether it be by age, sex, race, creed.” After three attempts, parents pulled it off, and Hobgood Academy became a charter school.

How North Carolina’s charter schools are used to resist integration is well documented, as more predominantly White charter schools pop up in integrated or majority-minority school districts. For example, a 2017 study — by researchers Helen F. Ladd, John B. Holbein and Charles T. Clotfelter of Duke University — found the state’s charter schools “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able White students in racially imbalanced schools” with the number of students in predominantly White charter schools nearly doubling as the number of minority students concentrated in charters that were more than 90 percent minority.

It is no surprise that one year after Hobgood’s conversion to a charter, this overwhelming White school’s demographics still looked nothing like the local public school. Yet the school was generously rewarded with a half-million-dollar U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant.

In 2018, the federal Charter Schools Program awarded a grant of $26.6 million to North Carolina to support “high-quality schools focused on meeting the needs of educationally disadvantaged students.”

Thirty of the 42 charter schools that to date have received CSP grants via the North Carolina Department of Education have reported demographic information. Of those schools, more than one-third (11) have significant overrepresentation of White students or a significant underrepresentation of Black students compared with the population of the public school district in which they are located.

But look, none of this is about race. My children just deserve the best education. Nothing else matters. Not the impact on race. Not the destruction of public schools. Not repeating patterns of segregation. Nope. Just Maddie and Connor’s extracurricular programs.

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