May 17, 2024 - News

School segregation in Utah visible 70 years after Brown v. Board

Choropleth map of U.S. counties showing the estimated level of segregation between Black and white students in K-12 public schools. Schools in counties in the southern U.S., southern California and Northeast tend to be more segregated than counties in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.
Data: Stanford Education Data Archive. Note: Index ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 implies no segregation (all schools have identical proportions of Black and white students) while 1 implies complete segregation (no Black student attends a school with any white students, and vice versa). Map: Axios Visuals

As the U.S. marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling today, American public schools are growing more separate and unequal even though the country is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

Why it matters: Decades after the decision and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. has moved toward policies that increase the isolation of Black and Latino students.

Flashback: Utah did not legally segregate schools, former BYU history professor Thomas Alexander noted in his book "Utah, the Right Place."

  • But "most discrimination in Utah resulted from restrictive real estate covenants, policies of private businesses, and patterns of residential living," he wrote.
  • While schools allowed all students to attend, partial segregation by economic class and race occurred.

What they're saying: The legacy of racist housing practices, such as redlining, has led to segregation in Utah schools, Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP tri-state area of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, told Axios.

  • "If you were Black or brown you could only buy a house in [certain areas]," she said. "When schoolchildren were able to attend school, they were attending schools based on where they lived."
  • Williams said the effects of redlining in schools are most notable on Salt Lake City's west side, where the majority of residents are people of color.
  • The Fair Housing Act banned redlining in 1968, 14 years after the SCOTUS decision.

Between the lines: The resegregation of America's public schools coincides with the rise of charter schools and school choice options, and as civil rights groups have turned away from desegregation battles.

The other side: Debbie Veney of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools tells Axios that neighborhood schools and charters are not causing racial segregation, but simply serving the students who appear at their doorsteps.

  • "The researchers might instead focus on why white families move from neighborhoods and pull their children out of schools when too many Black, Brown, or low-income kids start showing up. When we try to integrate, they leave."

Zoom out: Schools on average have become less white and more Latino, Asian American, and multiracial. But students of color are going to schools with fewer white students and fewer resources, a UCLA Civil Rights Project report found.

  • Though 45% of all U.S. students were white, the typical Black student attended a school that was 76% non-white in 2021.
  • The average Latino student went to a school that was 75% non-white.

At least four Utah school districts — Granite, Ogden, Salt Lake City, and San Juan — are majority-minority.

State of play: Analyzing data from U.S. public schools going back to 1967, a Stanford and USC study found that segregation between white and Black students has increased by 64% since 1988 in the 100 largest districts.

Stunning stat: The number of intensely segregated schools, defined as schools that are 90-100% non-white students, nearly tripled from 1988 to 2021, according to the UCLA report.

  • In 1988, about 7.4% of the nation's schools were intensely segregated.
  • By 2021, that number had ballooned to around 20%.

Go deeper: Latino students are the most segregated they've been since 1968

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