Omaha schools take a step back
Earlier, I told you (here and here)about the plan to break up the Omaha public schools into three separate districts based upon racial lines. Apparently, that plan has now been rebuffed:
The governor signed a bill Thursday repealing the planned breakup of the Omaha school district into three districts, largely along racial lines.
The new plan will partner Omaha-area districts in a "learning community," where district borders will become less important and may be crossed regularly. A new council is supposed to help enact programs to encourage integration and achievement, especially among poorer children.
Backers of the previously planned breakup, which passed last year, had said that dividing the state's largest district would have given minorities control of their own school boards. The division was put on hold after lawsuits alleged that the new, smaller districts would amount to state-endorsed segregation.
Now, through an open-enrollment plan, kids could be transported for free to other schools. Schools now filled with mostly white, affluent students could end up with more poor and minority students.
Pupils who would increase the diversity of schools they wished to attend would be given higher priority in decisions about transfers.
The bill was the product of months of negotiation. Gov. Dave Heineman said it wasn't perfect but would still improve the education of Omaha-area kids.
"I hope that today is the start of a new era of collaboration and cooperation when it comes to what matters most -- ensuring a positive future for the children of Nebraska," Heineman said.
The law also freezes school district boundaries in an attempt to resolve disputes over districts taking over adjacent districts.
The Legislature's only black senator, Ernie Chambers of Omaha, pushed last year's bill and also signed off on the new plan.
Doug Christensen, state education commissioner, said the law has the potential to force revolutionary changes in the Omaha area.
"The reality?" Christensen said. "We'll have to wait and see."
I have just never been too sure that the way to deal with segregation in a school district is to further segregate it.
Here's the deal: in my experience, segregation in schools is primarily a function of segregated housing patterns, since school districts are based upon attendance areas. Although there are a few redeveloped urban neighborhoods that have been specifically designed to have a wide range of economic levels among their residents, it's obvious that there are rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods everywhere-- not just in America. Frankly, socioeconomic differences are always more important than strictly racial differences when it comes to education. Deal with that fact, and you'll deal with inequity in schools. Easy, right? (Does my sardonic tone come through?)
Another concern regarding the Omaha case is that under NCLB, schools that do not perform at very high levels will be subject to loss of accreditation and state takeover. Children in impoverished homes have far higher difficulties succeeding in education. The end result of the plan that Omaha had presented would have been making the wealthier school district that would have been created much more secure under NCLB but sacrificing the two poorer school districts much more likely to fail under NCLB and therefore be taken over by the state. I wonder if that didn't play a part in the reconsideration of this plan.
There should be a wy to make sure there is minority presence on the Omaha school board without resegregating the schools there. But how do you get impoverished parents to have the time or the interest to serve on a voluntary school board on top of everything else in their lives? I think that might be the more relevant question.