Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Housing Patterns Are Segregated": The Part of the Champaign School Crisis That Requires Action Beyond the School Board

An opinion from the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (2004).

In case you didn't hear it, National Public Radio's All Things Considered (heard locally on WILL AM580) had a report Sunday evening on the court case that one observor said may be "the last resegregating our society" in America.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on whether the use of race as a factor in assigning students to schools to fight segregation is legal. This is the sort of system that the Champaign schools have been using as a way to satisfy court-ordered remedies for the results of racially skewed educational outcomes for black students.

For some time, local opponents of these legal efforts to end the pernicious effects of remaining racism, such as the editorial board of the local daily, the Champaign News-Gazette, have argued that the court-ordered plan is too expensive and unfair.

While they have been vociferous critics of the plan, they have offered little to nothing in the way of alternatives. The deeper reality of what underlies the school district's legal trouble is that, as Beth Shepperd, Assistant Superintendent of the Champaign Public Schools in Illinois, put it, Champiagn's "housing patterns are segregated" ("High Court Will Hear School-Integration Arguments" by Debbie Elliott).

Now, hearing that Champaign has patterns of racially segregated housing might come as a shock for listerners who ordinarily rely on the News-Gazette for the bulk of thier local news. Unfortunately, this is largely due to the fact that the News-Gazette has stubbornly refused to address patterns of persistent segregation in local housing. And the school board is hardly the only one to blame for segregated housing, since schools are only a small, but important, part of the housing equation.

True, good schools attract higher property values, but new developments and the planning that should go into providing basic city services, as well as maintaining those services in older parts of the city, is largely the result of decisions made by the city council and city staff. Unfortunately, both have given short shrift to the idea of equal access to place priorities on city services.

Champaign has taken a largely "those that pays, gets to call the plays" when it comes to development, encouraging sprawl, while neglecting other parts of the city, as one of its results the maintenance of de facto school segregation some forty years after de jure school segregation was ended. The News-Gazette's editorial board would have you believe that the market will solve all the problems with our schools, if only the courts would give it the chance. But the market is largely responsible for the patterns of racially segregated housing that is a large part of the problems with Champaign's school system -- the market has had free rein and it has continued to reproduce racial segregation in housing, aggravating disparities in the educational system. And the harsh reality is that this problem extends beyond Champaign.

Urbana is far from perfect and the growth of such bedroom communities as Mahomet, Savoy, and St. Joseph is intimately tied to white flight from inadequate and underfunded schools in Champaign; Rantoul has had its own special housing segregation issues since it was an Air Force base town. I didn't have the time to participate in Big.Small.All, but I heard that one of its big goals is to improve educational opportunities in Champaign County.

Unfortunately, the News-Gazette and other local opinion leaders have swept the major cause of the Champaign school system's legal problems -- segregated housing patterns -- under the rug as they have gone about stubbornly attacking the consent decree. We will likely not be any closer to solving these issues in the future unless we as a county begin addressing these disturbingly persistent and shameful failures of the American dream in a more forthright manner.

So, how about it, John Foreman and Tom Kacich-- can we at least hear your opinions on what other units of government beyond the Champaign School Board can do to begin addressing patterns of persistent housing segregation? That would seem to be one way to help solve the issues raised by the consent decree. Or do you really not care?