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White, wealthy communities are forming their own school districts

In 30 states, geographic communities can legally break away from large public school districts and form their own. As a result, a growing number of white and wealthier neighborhoods are creating their own schools and siphoning property taxes away from poorer, more diverse districts. Lauren Camera, education reporter at U.S. News & World Report, joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan, Pbs Newshour Weekend Anchor:

    Currently, 30 states have laws that allowed geographic communities to break away from large public school districts and form their own. As a result, a growing number of predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods are doing just that and taking their local property taxes with them. That makes racial and economic disparities in adjacent school districts even worse.

    Almost 50 communities have seceded since the year 2000, according to the nonprofit Ed Build, and a story this week in “U.S. News and World Report”.

    “U.S. News” education reporter Lauren Camera wrote that story, joins me now from Washington.

    Lauren, let’s just break down how secession of a school district works. You took a look at a story in Alabama.

  • Lauren Camera, “u.s. News And World Report” Education Reporter:

    This recently came to light when a school district in Alabama, Jefferson County School District, which includes Birmingham, a community there which is majority white, and middle class — it’s called Gardendale — and for a while, they have been wanting to splinter off under the guise of controlling more of their local property taxes, which, of course, make up the bulk of any school’s budget.

    And as you mentioned in your introduction, Hari, this is actually legal in 30 states. There are policies on the books allowing communities to do this if they so wish. And, actually, you know, it’s not just in Alabama. We’re seeing this happen across the entire country. Since 2000, more than 70 communities have tried to do this, 47 have succeeded.

  • Sreenivasan:

    I’m assuming that the rationale behind it is: hey, we want to keep our schools great. We are pouring all of our property tax into it.

  • Camera:

    Yes.

  • Sreenivasan:

    We want to keep this around where our kids are actually going to benefit from it.

    But there’s a flip side to that.

  • Camera:

    Yes, absolutely. When a community that is wealthier or has higher property tax rates, when they splinter off from their larger school district, that creates this financial hole in the school district that they leave behind. You know, in education policy, we talk a lot about subgroup performance and achievement gaps, and a lot of times, that focuses on the difference between students of color, and white students for example.

    But really the fastest growing gap is between socioeconomic indicators. So, poor students and their wealthier peers, that is the fastest growing gap in the U.S. today.

  • Sreenivasan:

    You point out that there’s nine active secession efforts that are happening. I’m just going to rattle off this list across the U.S.: Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

    So, do the states, of the 30 that allow for this, have to study any sort of potential impact? What happens when a secession occurs to those surrounding school districts?

  • Camera:

    Only a handful actually require that the district look into the impact of the racial — the racial impact, the socioeconomic impact, and the financial impact of the community splintering off. In Tennessee, for example, the only thing that they require for a community to splinter off is that the municipality must have more than 1,500 students. And, also, the majority of the residents in the municipality that wants to splinter off, they must agree with that move. So, that means they’re not taking into account anyone, any of the residents who live in the larger school district that they’re splintering off from.

  • Sreenivasan:

    Lauren Camera, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Camera:

    Thanks for having me.

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