NO: Change would produce segregated systems

We cannot allow cities in Georgia to create their own independent school districts.

State Rep. Tom Taylor of Dunwoody, one of the wealthiest suburbs in metro Atlanta, wants to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow this. While he’s been unable to get this bill through the Legislature twice, we will be seeing it again in the next session.

This is a civil rights issue. Desegregation laws in the 1960s caused massive white flight from Atlanta in large part because white parents wanted to avoid having their children in school with black children. Consider the integration of Kirkwood Elementary School. Read the story in “Atlanta Rising,” “The Atlanta Paradox” or any other book that chronicles how Kirkwood announced on a Friday in 1965 it would be integrating the following Monday. Over the weekend, all but seven white children left the school, and nearly 500 black students started school the next Monday.

To avoid these situations during the 1960s and ’70s, whites fled Atlanta for DeKalb County, where there weren’t as many black families. But as more middle-class and working blacks were able to afford to move out of Atlanta and into a better school district, whites began leaving DeKalb and heading for Gwinnett and north Fulton counties.

Nowadays, people don’t state directly they don’t want their children in schools with children of other races. They make the case against having their children in school with children from poor families or troubled backgrounds, many of whom happen to be Hispanic or black.

While de jure (or legal) segregation does not exist, de facto (what’s actually happening) segregation is, sadly, very much alive.

This is why independent school districts are problematic: allowing cities to create their own school districts would only exacerbate the problem of de facto segregation. The only cities that could support their own school systems, financially, would be those with a wealthy tax base. This would create a myriad of problems, including segregation of socioeconomic classes and (many times) race.

Consider the cities created since 2005: Dunwoody (69.8 percent white, 12 percent black, median family income $106,777), Johns Creek (63.5 percent white, 9 percent black, median family income $137,271), Sandy Springs (65 percent white, 20 percent black, median family income $129,810) and Brookhaven (61 percent white, 17 percent black, median family income $52,679). In addition to being majority white cities, they are also extremely wealthy compared with other metro areas.

Creating an independent school district would not only give these cities the ability to cut off families who could not afford to live inside their limits, it would remove a significant amount of funding from the county systems they are now a part of.

By simply incorporating, cities — contrary to popular opinion — did not remove any funding from the county school system. In creating an independent school district, however, these cities would take the property taxes allocated to the county school system and use the money to fund their city school systems, leaving the county schools without their biggest tax base.

These school districts already struggle to meet the needs of a countywide system, so removing their wealthiest taxpayers would further limit their ability to attract teachers and administrators with competitive salaries, maintain school buildings and properties, and provide materials for extracurricular activities (such as sports fields/stadiums, band equipment and art supplies).

A few ways you can personally get involved would be to join a Local School Advisory Council or a parent council in your region or cluster. You can also attend community input sessions at your school board meetings, and reach out to your respective board member or state representative.

If nothing else, hopefully, you’ll begin having this conversation with those you know. Kids and their life outcomes are greatly affected by education, and every student deserves a chance to succeed. Let’s try to figure out the best way to do that.

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A high school teacher, DeKalb County resident Rebekah Morris focuses on poverty and education policy as an independent researcher.

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