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Districts' Integration Efforts in a Changing Climate Two Years After the PICS Decision

Authors: Abbie Coffee, Erica Frankenberg
Date Published: July 30, 2009

Two years after the Supreme Court's voluntary integration decision and in the midst of tightening budgets, school districts around the country are balancing a number of goals including pursuing diverse schools. This memo includes examples of major trends identified in districts' actions regarding diversity.
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In their June 2007 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the importance of racial diversity in our nation’s schools, yet limited the the options available to districts interested in creating such diversity. The Court’s 5-4 ruling in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (referred to here as the PICS decision) came into conflict with a body of mounting social science evidence documenting the benefits of racial diversity and ignored the variety of harms stemming from segregated school environments. The ruling stated that schools may no longer use an individual student’s race or ethnicity as a sole factor in assigning students to a particular school site. What is still legal is using race in other ways such as taking account of the racial composition of a neighborhood in assigning students. The PICS decision does allow a variety of techniques including redistricting,  site selection, and other possible techniques. While some school districts have abandoned their efforts, others have come up with creative responses.

In essence, the Supreme Court told American educators that integrated education was a compelling interest for public schools in our diverse society but then prohibited them from using the most common techniques of voluntary integration. At the same time, the nation’s economy—and those of many states and municipalities, which are the largest source of funding for public schools—turned sour, as an economic recession and home foreclosures dramatically reduced the revenue for public schools. Still other districts are ending court oversight of their remedial desegregation efforts, and may face a dilemma like Louisville’s: a desegregation plan they were required to implement for years may be unconstitutional once their court order ends and the district is declared “unitary.” No help was forthcoming from the federal or state governments about how to achieve integration under these circumstances and school systems were left on their own.


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