Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

Whiter and Wealthier: .Local Control, Hinders Desegregation by Permitting School District Secessions

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

Whiter and Wealthier: .Local Control, Hinders Desegregation by Permitting School District Secessions

Article excerpt


School district disaggregation has been taking place for decades, but the media and researchers have cast new light on the phenomenon in recent years.1 This trend of smaller communities within a larger school district seceding to form their own school districts can create whiter, wealthier communities adjacent to larger, racially and socioeconomically diverse urban districts that have been struggling to fulfill desegregation orders.2

This Note proposes a way to discourage segregative school district disaggregation by reworking the concept of local control as a legal justification for suspect educational policy decisions and by adopting state legislation that promotes consolidated, efficient school districts, rather than allowing easy secessions. Both steps will lead to a more equitable distribution of resources, and better fulfill the promises of both Brown v. Board of Education3 and of state constitutions to provide education to all.4

Part II discusses how smaller, racially and socioeconomically segregated districts contribute to resource inequity and inefficiency and impede states' fulfillment of their moral-political responsibility to educate their citizenry. Part III examines trends in secession, first by looking at disaggregation in Jefferson county, Alabama, then by examining a statistical survey of seceding districts nationwide, and finally by considering a proposed secession in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

Part IV considers the Supreme Court case law and legal literature surrounding "local control": the main justification proponents offer and courts often accept for permitting secessions and other suspect education policies to proceed. This Part identifies three primary problems with the Court's understanding and use of local control in this way: (1) the Court attributes both social value and educational success to local control, but the empirical evidence on the effects of local is strongly to the contrary; (2) the Court employs local control and prioritizes it over constitutional rights in an inconsistent and dissonant manner; and (3) when used selectively to value only certain people and viewpoints within a community, local control can provide a guise for racism and other prejudice. As an alternative, Part V suggests a way to rework considerations of local control in judicial contexts to ensure that the benefits of an education system are extended to all members of a community. Part V also encourages state legislators to take responsibility for preventing disaggregation, promoting more efficient school district organization, and more equitably distributing resources to all communities.


Nearly sixty-five years ago, Brown v. Board of Education made clear that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits de jure segregation in public schools and obliges state legislatures, as well as state and federal judiciaries, to prevent and overturn such segregation.5 Still, today, racial animosity too often controls school district divisions.6 This Part discusses how segregation - particularly in small, segregated school districts - contributes to poorer educational outcomes for all students, contributes to heightened inefficiency, and keeps states from fulfilling their obligation to provide an adequate education for all.7


Under Brown v. Board, states that undertake to provide education have a responsibility to provide it equally to all public school students, in keeping with the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.8 Though the Equal Protection Clause only prohibits de jure segregation, evidence shows that segregation in general correlates with unequal educational outcomes. Segregated education also represents a moral-political failure on the part of states to fulfill their responsibility to provide equal education. …

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