Racial issues have seeds sown in failing schools

As much of the country awaits the decision of the grand jury in the Michael Brown case, there are plenty of questions to be asked regarding police brutality and racial tension in America. As important as the these questions are, there is one that has flown under the radar in the middle of all the chaos: How have the failing schools in lower-income communities contributed to these societal ills?

DonnellProbst-01This national interest problem has been quietly brewing in St. Louis county for almost a decade. Since 2006, St. Louis county has experienced a rash of school districts losing their accreditation from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Riverview Gardens School District, a little over four miles east of Ferguson, Missouri, was the first to lose its accreditation with DESE in 2006. Just one year later, St. Louis Public Schools, serving approximately 23,500 students in St. Louis, lost its accreditation in a highly publicized takeover by the state of Missouri. In one final blow to struggling communities in and around St. Louis, Normandy School District lost its accreditation in 2012, the last in a string of failed public education institutions. The NSD is the poster child for failing schools in St. Louis county. Comprised of 24 municipalities, NSD residents are 98 percent African American with 93.6 percent of its students receiving assistance through the federal lunch program.

After decades of movement towards more segregation in St. Louis, the demographics of the NSD are becoming all too common in suburban America; high minority population, even higher unemployment rates and lack of social services set up school districts for failure before they even have a chance to succeed.

Progress must be made in these areas if we are to stop the perpetuation of segregation and low socioeconomic status of communities like those surrounding St. Louis.

In the 2010 decision of Turner v. Clayton School Distrtict, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that students attending unaccredited school districts should have the ability to transfer to an accredited school district of their choice as a provision of their access to a Fair and Appropriate Public Education as defined by Section 504 of the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

While this decision seems like an acceptable, short-term bandage to a much more complex problem, the Missouri Supreme Court decision simultaneously ruled that failing school districts would be responsible for reimbursing accepting school districts for both tuition and transportation — a financial blow to already struggling districts.

For the NSD, only one-quarter of its student population took advantage of the school choice option afforded by the Missouri Supreme Court, with a large majority of the population electing to stay and work on district improvement and regaining accreditation for the NSD.

As reported by St. Louis Post Dispatch, the $1.3 million funneled each month to partner districts to cover the cost of tuition and transportation for transfer students has had a crippling effect on the NSD resulting in the closure of one elementary school and the elimination of 104 staff positions.

As more and more funds are diverted away from the struggling NSD into already well-funded partner districts, a financial recovery seems almost impossible. As the schools continue to fail, the chance of communities like those under the umbrella of the NSD drawing in new residents and businesses seems unlikely and hope for community improvement wanes.

Like many communities all over America, people residing within the bounds of the NSD are left wondering how they will escape the relentless cycle of poverty, segregation and failing schools adversely affecting minority communities.


Reach the columnist at donnellprobst@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @DonnellProbst

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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