Some smaller suburbs are choosing to separate from larger school districts and form smaller districts of their own in an effort to take the education of their citizens into their own hands. It’s being termed “school district secession.” While there are potential benefits to community-driven education, many fear this kind of re-districting will lead to segregation in schools.
A new research study published last week in AERA Open looked at the effects of school district secession, specifically in the South. There were a total of 47 school districts across the nation that seceded from a larger school district from 2000-2017. Eighteen of these new school districts were in the South. The study examined the effects of the secessions on the school districts over a 15-year period from 2000-2015.
Researchers found that over the 15-year period where the secessions occurred, school district boundary segregation increased by approximately 6% and the segregation between black and white students was up about 10%.
Proponents of district secession say it’s a way for communities to take back control of their neighborhood schools. Many cite the influx of students that have transferred from private schools to newly districted schools. But others fear even if it’s not intentional segregation, that may be the end result. The worry is districts that were “left behind” will have fewer resources and ultimately not be able to provide the same quality of education.
Erica Frankenburg, a professor at Penn State University and one of the authors of the study, cautions in an interview with AERA that secessions may be cause for pause, “These are of concern given our research and other research that shows that secession may be a new form of segregation; that it’s happening in the twenty-first century.”
The criteria to exit a school district and form a new district varies from state to state. Some states only require a certain number of citizens to form a new district, while others require a state-wide vote and a constitutional amendment to approve each new district.
The initial findings point to a potential issue when it comes to racial segregation. However, the study focused on only one geographical area of the country. Researchers say they chose the South because it was statistically the most integrated area after all of the work that had been done to desegregate schools that had long been segregated.
The future of school district secession and its long-term effects on racial relations and equality throughout the country as a whole remains to be seen.