Diversity grants offered to a nation increasingly divided

Diversity grants offered to a nation increasingly divided

(District of Columbia) Money may soon be available for districts to redraw school boundaries or develop other plans aimed at addressing rampant segregation that still exists in many districts under a bill jointly introduced by members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The Stronger Together School Diversity Act of 2016 comes forward as attention nationally is increasingly focused on race and inequalities—divisions that continue to dog many schools as well as the communities they serve.

The bill would provide $120 million in grants solely dedicated to increasing student diversity in schools, which are more segregated now than 30 years ago, according to a study released last year by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

“Diverse schools help students. That’s the bottom line,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement. “We’re introducing this bill because districts need the resources to enact voluntary measures that will make schools more diverse and reduce the economic and racial isolation that sadly exists in places like Hartford and Bridgeport.”

Low-income, segregated schools often receive fewer resources, offer fewer educational opportunities and take more disciplinary actions, according to a report published in April by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Increased diversity, on the other hand, improves academic outcomes and college attendance.

Under the bill introduced last week, schools that receive grant money to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity can use funds to study segregation, evaluate current policies and develop evidence-based plans to address disparities; establish public school choice zones, revise school boundaries or expand bussing services; or create programs to attract students to different schools; and recruit and train good teachers for all campuses.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that state laws establishing “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional. A decade later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in schools, the workplace and businesses that accommodated the public.

Still, schools lacking in diversity often point to “de facto” segregation as the cause, meaning neighborhood schools will be predominantly white, for example, because the surrounding community is composed mostly of white families.

“Brown v. Board ruled more than 60 years ago that ‘separate is not equal,’ yet it is obvious that many schools are suffering from the effects of [‘de facto’] segregation,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the bill’s other author, said in a statement. “This bill will help bring parity of access and resources to schools across the nation, provide a platform to address inequities within our current education system, and help give all of our students a chance to succeed.”

According to the GAO report, the most dramatic increases in segregated school populations can be found where the overlap of race and poverty is most prevalent. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of schools across the country where nearly all students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals and almost all of the students were black or Hispanic, grew by almost 150 percent.

It was at these schools researchers cited higher disciplinary rates and fewer resources.

Some states have already pledged efforts to desegregate schools. In New York this month, the Department of Education announced new initiatives aimed at increasing access and diversity in the city’s eight high schools that specialize in specialized science, technology, Latin or American studies.

Supporters of the bill say it can do more over time to help address racial tension, which has been at the root of a number of highly publicized incidents in recent weeks.

“School integration isn’t just important for academic achievement, although the evidence on achievement is very strong,” Philip Tegeler executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, said in a statement. “Bringing children of different backgrounds together also helps to reduce racial prejudice and teaches children how to live and work together across racial and class lines.”