Public schools have been closing in huge numbers in recent years, and the impact is disproportionately on children of color, according to a new report and legal complaint from the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The groups says in the report, “America’s predominantly Black and Latino communities are experiencing an epidemic of public school closures.” It notes that Detroit, New York City, and Chicago have all closed more than 100 public schools in recent years. Detroit’s students are 98 percent of color, while Chicago’s are 91 percent. In Chicago, the closure of more than 50 schools last year disproportionately affected African-American students: 88 percent of those diverted to new schools were black, compared to just 0.7 percent of white students. The most extreme case, however, is likely New Orleans, which will have closed all by five of its public schools by the fall of this year.
Nine others — Baltimore; Columbus, OH; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Milwaukee; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; St. Louis, MO; and Washington, D.C. — have had more than 25 schools close. Students in Baltimore and Houston are 92 percent of color, DC is 90 percent of color, St. Louis is 87 percent, and Philadelphia is 86 percent. Philadelphia students have dealt with severe cuts, with 9,000 students attending different schools last year than the year before after 24 were closed.
The closures coincide with dramatic losses to public school enrollment, many of them serving large populations of black and Hispanic students. At the top of the list, Detroit, whose students are 98 percent of color, has lost 63 percent of its public school enrollment in seven years, and Gary, IN, with a 99 percent minority student population, has lost nearly half.
These numbers have prompted the organization to file three complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act along with the Advancement Project. Given that Title VI prohibits discrimination in the use of federal funds, the groups allege discrimination in Chicago, New Orleans, and Newark, NJ, given what they say is the “racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color.”
Besides the impact of closed schools, some of these students are dealing with other changes. In Philadelphia, class sizes have ballooned to as many as 48 students in one room while 3,859 employees were laid off. The state also eliminated funding for arts and sports. In Chicago, over 1,000 teachers were laid off when it closed 50 schools, 10 percent of which were in art or music.