May 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Suburban schools becoming less white, more Latino

 Students wave to one of their previous teachers on the first day of class at Roosevelt Elementary School in Anaheim, CA on Thursday, August 10, 2023.

Students wave to one of their previous teachers on the first day of class at Roosevelt Elementary School in Anaheim, Calif., last August. Photo: Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Suburban schools are seeing dramatic surges in segregation as white enrollments fall and Latino enrollments jump, according to two reports and an Axios review of federal data.

Why it matters: As the U.S. marks the 70th anniversary Friday of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that banned separating schoolchildren by race, America's public schools are becoming more separate and unequal.

  • That includes schools in suburbs across the nation, which sprung up as the nation's population boomed and families gradually fled cities and their underfunded school districts.
  • First, it was mostly white flight to the suburbs, but as the nation's demographics have shifted, those moving from the cities increasingly have been Latino and Black.

The big picture: Today, as whites make up decreasing percentages of the population and public school enrollments, Black and Latino families in many suburbs increasingly are enrolling their children in schools where patterns of racial and economic segregation are emerging.

The resegregation of America's public schools has increased dramatically during the last three decades.

  • It coincides with the rise of charter schools and school choice options, and as civil rights groups have turned away from desegregation battles.

By the numbers: During the past decade, the nation's 25 largest suburban areas saw the number of intensely segregated school districts — defined as districts that are 90%-100% nonwhite students — double, according to a UCLA Civil Rights Project report.

  • From 2010 to 2020, the share of Black and Latino intensely segregated school districts rose to 10%, the report found.
  • In 2020, about 7% of suburban districts were 90% to 100% white, a decline from 18% in 2010.
  • The typical Black and Latino student in the suburbs attended a school in a district that was just 25% white, the report said.

Zoom in: About 30% of the nation's entire public school enrollment is in those largest 25 suburban areas.

  • In 10 years, those suburban schools saw a steep drop of about 850,000 white students and more than 1 million new Latino students, a shift reflecting how Latinos are one of the nation's fast-growing ethnicities.

An Axios review of schools in the suburbs using the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University tool found an even more dramatic rise in segregation since 1991.

  • In 1991, McCoy Elementary in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school system northwest of Dallas had an enrollment that was 84% white, 5% Black and 4% Latino.
  • In 2022, its enrollment was less than 19% white, with 75% students of color.
  • Eisenhower High School in Houston — which then-President George H.W. Bush praised for its diversity — was 31% white, 41% Black, 18% Latino and 11% Asian American in 1991.
  • Today, Eisenhower is 1% white and 98% students of color, mainly Latino.

What they're saying: "The suburban school segregation story is one that not enough scholars have really explored," Kfir Mordechay, associate professor of education and policy studies at Pepperdine University, tells Axios.

  • White birth rates have collapsed, and some areas never fully recovered from the housing crisis of the early 2000s, he said.
  • Halli Faulkner, a senior legislative drafter with the education advocacy group yes. every kid, tells Axios that suburban districts often have drawn school boundaries to reinforce segregation, or introduce it.
  • "It's very strange to me how we've as a country largely accepted these hugely divisive school district boundaries," she said.

The intrigue: Faulkner says her group recommends that school districts stop punishing parents who use another family's address so their children can attend a high-performing school to battle segregation.

  • Mordechay proposes that policymakers see gentrification as a way to foster integration.

What we're watching: Education, so far, hasn't been a prominent issue in the 2024 election — aside from cultural issues such as debates over book bans.

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