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  Vernellia R. Randall
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The University of Dayton
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Linking Housing and Education:
The Nexus Between Integration of Society and Integration of Schools

Melissa Duke
The University of Dayton School of Law
Spring 1998 
Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954 whereby the Court sought to eradicate the evils of state sanctioned segregation in the South.(1) In 1971 the landmark case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education established that busing is one constitutionally permissible means of achieving school desegregation.(2) This precedent established a remedial technique of requiring bus transportation of public school students for purposes of racial desegregation when assignment of children to the nearest school serving their grade would not produce an effective dismantling of a dual school system. 

For the past four decades American law has tried to address the issue of racial segregation among school districts and students. This article does not address what constitutes legal segregation or even what should constitute legal segregation, but addresses the issue of segregation and its ultimate effects on society and other forms of discrimination.


Racial and ethnic isolation of school children further contributes to society's problem of intolerance. Therefore, techniques to achieve desegregation by way or integration of neighborhoods must be implemented in inner-city areas where traditional forms of integration by means of forced busing have failed.

Overview of the Problem of Racial Isolation

After forty years of court-ordered desegregation and twenty-six years of court-ordered mandatory reassignment, evidence indicates that school integration is a weak treatment for the social ills it was suppose to fix. The hope in achieving desegregation were many including gains in academic achievement on the part of Black and Hispanics, residential integration and occupational status, and the improvement in race relations and the self-esteem of students.(3)

The fact is that inner city poor children of color are poverty stricken in many instances, and there is no known instance of school integration changing the social class or income of such families. Therefore, it appears that something more must be done. 

In 1990 the Connecticut Supreme Court addressed the issue of segregation in Savage v. Aronson, 571 A.2d 696, 712 (Conn. 1990), but touched on an important aspect in its decision to require direct and harmful state action to support claims under the equal protection provision of its state constitution.(4) That Court held that there is an undoubted hardship imposed upon children from the lack of affordable housing near the schools where they now are being educated. However, the Court acknowledged that this results from the difficult financial circumstances the families face and not from anything the state has done to deprive them of the right to an equal educational opportunity.(5) The Court concluded that the financial circumstances of the poor plaintiffs was the cause of their inability to obtain homes in the areas where they wanted their children to attend school and not from any direct and harmful state action.(6) This case is important because it acknowledges that lack of integration is often caused by something more than disparate state action. Thus, this is merely one example in which the hope of desegregation was not able to meet the evils of racial isolation of a community.

 The Failure of School Desegregation

Court-ordered integration and other desegregation policies have failed to integrate most urban schools or significantly increase access to quality educational programs.(7) It would appear that the promises of Brown v. Board of Education have been meagerly met. Heightened racial tension has been the end result of much integration effort.(8) It has been argued that effective integration requires Black and White students to meet as peers without exercising dominance and control over each other.(9) In addition, many school board busing plans to promote desegregation have sometimes been attacked by minority groups for whom the plans are intended to benefit on the ground that the plans place the burden of desegregation on Black children by busing them to formerly all white schools without busing white children to formerly Black Schools.(10) This form of one-way busing can cause racial tension between the Black and White Students. Such tensions may lead the bused students to be subjected to extortion, assault, and harassment which can interfere with their learning process.(11) Generally, courts have been very reluctant to interfere with school boards' discretion in adopting busing plans to promote desegregation. Given the fact that traditional efforts at busing to promote desegregation have failed or have reached only minuscule goals, it is obvious that something else needs to be done to promote racial integration.

 Various Techniques Utilized To Achieve Racial Integration

Various techniques have been utilized by the states to meet the burden of desegregation. Four alternatives and their respective strengths and weaknesses will be addressed in this Article. These include single metropolitan school districts, magnet and charter schools, and voucher systems. 

The first alternative is a creature of state law---school district boundaries. State law establishes the borders of school districts to coincide with town boundaries. Such laws usually require all children to attend the public school within the district in which they reside. One of the most overlooked options to achieve racial integration is metropolitan school integration. Metropolitan school desegregation is a far-reaching policy affecting every school within some stated metropolitan areas and nine-tenths of all young people living in such areas.(12)

The advantages include that it counters the trend toward multiple school districts within a given metropolitan area deeply separated by race, class, and politics. A metropolitan school district constitutes a single unit school governance that provides all education for all sectors of the community. The children and schools of the least powerful and most powerful sectors of the community depend on the same large institution. All classes and races of children and their families have a direct interest in its success. Local employers cannot pick and choose among school districts in which to locate.(13)

Perhaps the most notable advantage is that people have little incentive to make residential choices on the basis of a particular school's racial concentration since all schools are part of one district. All schools within the metropolitan school district are supported by the same tax-base.(14) It would appear that people in the market for a new home in a metropolitan area would be less likely to base the choice on the racial composition of the neighborhood and racial integration in the individual neighborhoods could naturally result. 

There are however inherent weaknesses to such a plan. It has been argued that eliminating individual districts would not eliminate racial isolation, but would merely hide it. There would be one huge metropolitan district with the same students and the scores of their state achievement tests would likely remain the same.(15) The students would still be attending schools in the metropolitan city, they would still be poor, and the schools would still be racially isolated. 

Generally, no real status change would occur for these students. Their problems would likely be masked by the inclusion of more wealthy, higher-scoring students in the new school district's average characteristics and statistics.(16) In addition, some poorer school districts could lose some federal and state funding earmarked for poor schools because it would no longer exists as a separate, poor entity.(17) Therefore, the appeal of one metropolitan district looses some of its muster as the weaknesses are factored into the equation. It appears on its face that problems of the schools would be hidden, and this is certainly not the answer to racial integration. 

The second major alternative for eliminating racial isolation among America's school children is the creation of charter schools and magnet schools. Most school choice programs take a more traditional approach and leave the task of educational policy making to professional educators.(18) Charter schools, are different in that the educational arena is opened to nonprofessionals.(19) This form of public choice plan receives public funding and operates under local or state school boards.(20) Under both magnet schools and charter schools the school children apply for enrollment at schools other than those that they would be automatically assigned in the areas they live. 

Magnet school programs target specific city schools and upgrade the quality of the educational program and facility in order to attract White students into the city.(21) Students are not admitted to magnet schools in numbers that reflect the demographics of the district, but are instead enrolled under formulas that essentially ask how much integration is too much before the White student population becomes unstable. The goal of a magnet school is integration.(22)

The strengths of magnet of schools is that past discrimination which has led to racial isolation has the potential to be eroded. Students who become part of these regional plans cross-district lines to attend their chosen school. School officials are able to trump parental choice in an effort to maintain a certain racial balance in the district.(23) However, there is still much to be learned about the ability to attract White students into traditionally Black school by way of a magnet school. There must be something special about these school to attract White students, and racial "quotas" are just not enough of an incentive. 

Charter schools on the other hand open up the opportunity for much desired parental involvement in the design and operation of a school.(24) Generally, parents evaluate and select a particular school after determining that it meets their family's needs.(25) However, charter schools remain nonsecretarian, and admissions may not be unlawfully restricted and is usually done by lottery.(26) The critical difference between magnet schools and charter schools is that charter schools focus on educational reform and not integration.(27)

There has been much debate about charter schools and their ability to achieve racial integration. Black critics has criticized them as quick fix reform that ignores the urgent needs of urban schools where the majority of Black children will continue enrollment once the charter school "fever" has died down. If appears logical that unless charters are granted to individuals who focus on the concerns and needs of Black children, that the schools may only benefit a handful of Blacks students under the mask of education reform.(28) In addition, it must be noted that with charter schools and with magnet schools there is still no incentive for families to move into areas which are predominately Black or predominately White. Housing choice will probably not be affected by either type of school. Therefore, true integration of neighborhoods is still not achieved. 

The last alternative to school integration is the voucher system. Tuition vouchers or tax credits exist for students wishing to attend private, often parochial schools. This is a private school choice which offers financial subsidies. It has been argued that by giving minority students vouchers equalizes power in a way that is different from financial equalization.(29) Regardless of mobility or economic ability all children would have roughly the same opportunities to attain a legally adequate education.(30) When a public school continues legally ineffective practices, vouchers act as a penalty. If a court of law determines that a government school is providing a legally inadequate education, then aggrieved parents are given court-ordered vouchers. In return, when the students choose to use the voucher, the public school will lose money proportionate to the number of students who decide to leave it.(31) It has been argued that the public schools will in turn stop the benign neglect of the failing school, and the voucher system would provide for a powerful incentive to correct educational inadequacies.(32)

However, a voucher system seems to have a number of weaknesses. First, the voucher remedy does not require courts to tell the school how to fix the problem. Additionally, the school may not be able to fix the problem. Often funding in inner-cities is weak do to poor economies and tax bases. Therefore, if students pull out of the failing school and take their tax dollars with them, then how can the school be expected to remedy a problem that is often financially based? In addition, it has been argued that desegregation is a by-product of the voucher system.(33) However, just because minority students will have access to more integrated schools does not mean that desegregation will naturally flow. Students can use the vouchers at any participating schools and do not have to choose a racially integrated school. There is no incentive for doing so. Therefore, as a whole, the voucher system seems riddled with problems. Racial integration would appear the least likely by-product of the voucher system. Conclusion

Residential segregation is the product of both long-term effects of school segregation on the structure of a community and of other governmental actions in the fields of housing and urban development. Transferring students to integrate schools does not appear to affect housing choice by their respective parents. So, why does housing choice affect racial isolation? It is only by living in the same neighborhoods that people truly experience each other and their ways of life and customs. Stereotypes of other cultures and races are passed on generation to generation by people who have little to no experience with the people they have stereotyped. 

When people of different races and cultures live in the same neighborhoods, it is believed that the classic deep-rooted stereotypes will erode as the people in the neighborhood experience each other. When the parents of school children begin to change their stereotypes, then the children are also affected in a positive manner. After all, we are not born with hate for other races, it is a learned trait. Therefore, when the children are positively affected by neighborhood integration, then their learning environments are also positively affected. The students will not feel animosity or hate toward each other and will begin to socially interact in the school setting. 

Racial harmony which begins in the neighborhood will lead to better job opportunities for the minorities who locate into traditionally White neighborhoods, and vice versa. When stereotypes are defeated, people are treated with respect regardless of race and are judged by their merits and not their color. When job opportunities increase, minorities are able to achieve the necessities of life such as wealth, power, education, and health care. In return, the neighborhood as a whole is healthier and happier. Therefore, desegregation plans must include housing incentives. There must be a housing policy in place to coincide with any effort to desegregate schools. This will eventually permit the return of neighborhood schools in some sectors. The best plan is to strategically achieve integrated schools within the individual neighborhoods. There must still be more research into what is the best plan to achieve racial integration of schools. Of the above alternatives to traditional busing plans, I do not feel that any are the "best." They all have problems and they all seem to be more of quick fixes than strategic long-term plans to achieve neighborhood schools which are integrated. 

As previously noted, housing plans must accompany any and all desegregation plans in order to achieve the long-term goal of neighborhood integration. More research needs to be done on what will achieve housing incentives. Examples may be tax credits for White families who move into traditionally Black neighborhoods and vice versa. The end result must be racial integration because only by truly living together can society begin to overcome intolerance.



1. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). 

2. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 91 S. Ct. 1267 (1971). 

3. Christine H. Rossell, An Analysis of The Court Decisions in Sheff v. O'Neill and Possible Remedies for Racial Isolation, 29 Conn. L. Rev. 1187 (Spring, 1997). 

4. Savage v. Aronson, 571 A.2d 696, 712 (Conn. 1990). 

5. Id

6. Id

7. Robin D. Barnes, Black American and School Choice: Charting a New Course, 106 Yale L.J. 2375, 2379 (June, 1997). 

8. Id

9. Derrick Bell, The Dialectics of School Desegregation, 32 Ala. L. Rev. 281, 295 (1981). 

10. Washington State Ex. Rel. Citizens Against Mandatory Bussing v. Brooks, 492 P2d 536, (1972). 

11. Zebra v. School District, 296 A2d 748, (Pa. 1972). 

12. Gary Orfield, Metropolitan School Desegregation: Impacts on Metropolitan Society, 80 Minn. L. Rev. 825, 832, (April, 1996). 

13. Id at 832-833. 

14. Id at 834. 

15. Rossell, 29 Conn. L. Rev. 1187, 1205. 

16. Id

17. Id

18. Barnes, 106 Yale L.J. 2375, 2400. 

19. Id

20. Id. at 2401. 

21. Id. at 2402. 

22. Id. at 2403-2405. 

23. Id

24. Id. at 2404. 

25. Id

26. Id

27. Id

28. Id. at 2407. 

29. Justin J. Sayfie, Education Emancipation for Inner City Students: A New Legal Paradigm for Achieving Equality of Educational Opportunity, 48 U. Miami L. Rev. 913, 940-41 (March 1994). 

30. Id

31. Id

32. Id

33. Id. at 945-947. 

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