Seattle schools are more segregated today than in decades

Apr 15, 2019, 3:34 PM

Despite Seattle’s best intentions today, its schools are more segregated than they were just a couple decades ago.

“We actually have more school segregation today than in any time in the last 45 years in this country, and the reason we have so much school segregation is because the neighborhoods are so segregated,” Richard Rothstein told the Candy, Mike, and Todd Show.

Rothstein wrote the book on segregation in America — an issue that lingers today. His book The Color of Law was recently turned into a short film Segregation by Design. He’s also a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. He notes that Seattle schools are currently six times more segregated than they were in 1990, despite neighborhoods becoming more diverse.

“I actually got started on writing this book, The Color of Law, because I read a Supreme Court decision that concerned Seattle,” Rothstein said. “The Supreme Court prohibited the Seattle school district from embarking on a very, very token school desegregation plan … the Seattle school district had a policy of allowing parents to choose the school their child would attend, but if the choice would further exacerbate the racial isolation of the school, that choice would not be honored.”

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“So if you had a school in Seattle that was all white, or mostly white, and there was one place left and a black and a white child applied for it, the black child was given some preference in order to help desegregate the school,” he said.

Seattle Public Schools lost a seven-year long court battle over its busing program. The district once used race as criteria for placing students into schools, favoring integration beyond neighborhood borders. The Supreme Court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional.

There’s a few other reasons why Seattle’s schools have become more segregated. KNKX first reported on a study which shows that 22 percent of students in Seattle go to private schools.

But as Rothstein notes, if the neighborhoods were segregated to begin with (read more about that here), then the schools would reflect that.

“The policies are easy to design to desegregate this country and redress the segregation that the government created,” he said. “What’s hard is developing the political will – a new civil rights movement that’s going to address this. We could, for example, subsidize African Americans … these subdivisions that were created on an explicitly racial basis when they were inexpensive and African Americans couldn’t move into them (in the ’40s and ’50s). We could subsidize African Americans to move into suburbs that are now unaffordable to them.”

Lawmakers could also modify existing laws that are maintaining the status quo.

“We have many programs that the federal government now follows that reinforce segregation even though they are not explicitly designed to … for example the US Treasury Department gives tax breaks to developers to build housing for low income families,” he said. “Those families are disproportionately African American … that program reinforces segregation because most of the low income housing tax credit developments are placed in already low-income segregated neighborhoods, making them more segregated than they were before.”

“We could very easily modify that program to require that a higher proportion of those developments are placed in high-opportunity neighborhoods, and middle class neighborhoods …” Rothstein said. “The problem is not that we don’t know what to do, the problem is that we don’t have the political will to correct these civil rights violations.”

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Seattle schools are more segregated today than in decades