Leib Sutcher: In the government’s hands

On Tuesday, Ansley Erickson, an educational historian, talked us through the history of racial segregation in American schools. She started her talk by sharing Nixon’s constitutionalist approach to school segregation. He differentiates de jure segregation, which is deliberate action by school officials and government that segregates schools, considered to be unconstitutional, and de facto segregation, which is segregation that happens unintentionally though housing patterns and individual choice, considered to be constitutional. Erickson argues that in reality the cause of segregation was actually more de jure than we might like to admit. For example, in 1974 the Supreme Court ruled that cross-district desegregation was unconstitutional. Although it did not directly segregate, this ruling lead to a huge influx in segregation. So when the Supreme Court in Seattle rules that school districts can not actively desegregate, the government and courts are not taking responsibility for what they caused. Since the courts were involved in segregating schools they should be involved in desegregating them. I completely agree with her stance on this.

Erickson suggested two ways the government could facilitate desegregation. Either increase the presence of governmental control or completely let go of governmental control. She did not pretend to know how to achieve integration. What she was sure of is that what we are doing now is not working. She presented two paths that could potentially desegregate and provide equal education to most. She suggests ether complete school choice or governmental mandated intra-district desegregation. Something that James Ryan suggests as a method to improve educational opportunity and desegregation was a universal voucher program. I strongly believe this would not achieve the diversity and opportunities that American education needs.

First off, if every student was given a voucher, a family who is sending their student to a school that costs $30,000 a year would end up just getting a tax break from the government because they already could afford it. So, wealthier families who have the means to send their kids to private school and also pay taxes to send other kids to public school would get money back just reducing funding for public schools. Secondly, voucher programs in this country so far have only given students a maximum of around $5,000 a year. This would not even begin to pay for the elite private schools. It could maybe afford Catholic schools, but on average Catholic schools perform no better than public schools after controlling for socioeconomic status. What universal vouchers would probably end up doing is providing white middle class families that might have previously not been able to pay for elite private education to then be able to pull their students out of public schools and send them to private schools. For working class students, a voucher that small would probably not be enough to even get their students out of public school (if anything vouchers would end up allowing them to attend a Catholic school). The voucher programs we have seen have only increased segregation. Even if the government could afford huge vouchers that would pay for the elite schools, we have seen when that Americans are given a choice, they will not integrate. Wealthier families would just attend the next tier of education, and if there was not another tier they would make it. For these reasons, the only approach that could have success is one that mandates desegregation and equal opportunity. The government influenced inequality – they should have a active role in righting their wrongs.  The government must play an active and hands-on role in healing the American education system.

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