You were criticized for using the word “busing”, or being against student assignment based upon “diversity”. Please explain.
In 1970, after deeming racial desegregation moving too slowly after Brown v. Board of Education, the Courts ordered Charlotte to implement a transportation to fully integrate schools. In 1999, another Court ordered that to stop after parents sued. In 2010, CMS adopted a student assignment plan based first on a student’s home address.
Now, some groups are calling for CMS to redo its student assignment plan to place a greater weight upon “diversity”, primarily household income. Some who grew up in Charlotte in the era of busing remember it fondly and suggest a return to such student assignment model. Some ascribe overtly racist motives in anyone who resists such a student assignment plan.
I think this is a bad idea for several reasons.
First, we are fundamentally not the same town we were back then. In 1990, Mecklenburg County had 500,000 residents, and we just passed 1 million. Huntersville went from 1,500 residents to now almost 55,000. The practical ability to transport students across the county is less feasible than ever. We can less than ever easily define “diversity”, as CMS went from 10,000 Hispanic students in 2005 to 30,000 in 2015, a 300% increase that is not slowing.
Second, CMS student performance is markedly up. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, near 90%. Performance by students of color and in poverty are up even faster, and the “achievement gap” is at an all-time low. In 2009 we had 5 high schools with graduation rates below 60%, some lower than 50%; now we have none close to that range. East Mecklenburg in 2009 had a graduation rate of 73%, and in 2015 went over 90%. Olympic High School in 2005 had composite EOG scores of 53%, and in 2014-15 approached 90%. Olympic is a Title One neighborhood school, not a magnet school.
Third, the same parents who successfully sued to stop busing in 1999 likely would sue again. As a trial attorney professionally, I am very cautious entering a plan that is certain to result in litigation. Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and very difficult to predict an outcome.
Fourth, I am deeply committed to bringing excellent education to every child, and worry how this would work. For example, taking 40% of kids out of a Project Lift elementary school like Bruns, and sending them to other schools like Selwyn Elementary or Elizabeth Lane Elementary, what happens to the 60% of kids left behind? Children in poverty experience traumas and stress outside the classroom at a higher rate, and attendance is a frequent barrier; I see those issues first hand volunteering as a pro bono attorney with the Council for Children’s Rights. How would such issues be solved by transportation to a distant school. On the other side, I see no possibility of taking 40% of kids out of Elizabeth Lane, overcrowded but at 98% EOG scores, and getting parents to willingly send their kids into Project Lift; it simply won’t happen.
Fifth, as I travel Mecklenburg County, this concern over diversity does not appear shared universally. Indeed, the most important voice in student assignment, current K-12 parents, are notably absent from the conversation dominated by “advocacy groups” significantly comprised of empty-nesters and retirees. A change of this sweeping scope must have buy-in from all corners of the County, which presently does not exist, and is highly unlikely to change. We must work for solutions that are acceptable to as many people as possible.
Students performing at 20-30% proficiency in schools of super-concentrated poverty is beyond unacceptable. We need to deploy any and all tools possible to get those kids a sound education. At the same time, we must maintain a level of stability to maintain and build upon the historical successes of recent years.