White Flight and Charters

This story deserves a prologue so here goes.

After Brown vs. Board of Education and later court rulings requiring segregated school districts public schools throughout the South saw a rapid evacuation of whites from public schools and a spate of laws making it easy for white families to set up all white private schools no doubt with significant tax breaks.

This was long after my grade school in Topeka, Kansas was integrated. There were already a few black children in Loman Hill when I first attended second grade in about 1957. That year we moved to the new post war Loman Hill and I was sent to the playground while the all black children from a nearby school were escorted into our new classes. Massive school busing to integrate schools began about a decade later when I was in high school and college. (I have a sister-in-law who is still bitter about her busing experiences in Boston.) Busing was a last straw for southern whites and they pulled almost all their children out of public schools to attend white private schools.

I viewed these private schools as something of a racist anathema. When twenty years later I was married with my own children Claudia briefly entertained the idea of getting a job in the South. Fortunately nothing came of it but we had a very serious discussion about where our children would be educated if we made the move. She naturally saw the private schools as a refuge from the notoriously underfunded public schools. I argued that our children would get a good education based on our own ambitions for them and wanted them to attend the inferior black dominated public schools. Our discussions never made it past theory as we stayed in Duluth.

When my fellows on the Duluth School Board invited Edison into Duluth to set up a school white flight was not imaginable. There just weren’t that many black children in the City. In fact, early on black families liked the idea of enrolling their children into Edison. I believe that today Duluth’s Northstar Academy has its proportionate share of African American students. Whether this will continue I don’t know. I just know that black families are moving to Duluth in larger numbers and making up a larger percentage of the Duluth School’s enrollment. As the last folks into Duluth it could be that they will not get on the Edison waiting lists. In time there could be a significant difference in the racial makeup between the ISD 709 schools and Edison’s schools. That would be unfortunate.

This process is already starting in the Twin Cities as the story linked to in the first sentence explains. White families are pulling their children out of increasingly integrated public schools in the inner ring suburbs of the Twin Cities and enrolling them into disproportionately white Charter Schools. That was not the purpose of Charters when they were first dreamed up by DFL Governor and ex-Hibbing School Board member Rudy Perpich. I’m sure he would be appalled at how things are developing.

What this means for Duluth will only be ascertained in the future. I mention it here now because I don’t want the same pattern to develop.

When I was contemplating an Edison School in the 1990’s I began a serious electronic correspondence with a woman in St. Louis MO, who was the head of the organization trying to start Charter Schools. She lobbied the legislature to win their acceptance. Her purpose was to create decent schools for ambitious black families whose children were being short changed by the notoriously bad St. Louis Public Schools. White flight had begun there in the Busing Era just as in other parts of the South. I visited St. Louis once to see my Brother and paid a visit to one of the Public High Schools. It was the first and only time I had to walk through a metal detector to get into a school.

That is a short preface to the following. I mentioned the column by Trish Waltman in the Reader Weekly. To summarize she hated her experiences at East High but as a new mother loves Edison for her children. I don’t blame her. Her column is titled “Sell Central.” its the same line I’m hearing over and over as I go door to door. I think its fair to say that her column seems to be driven in large part because of her ill will towards the ISD 709 schools and not just her determination to give her children the best education possible.

I wish I could link to her column but the Reader Weekly has not and may never put it on their website. I am going to let you see how another commentator reacts to Walman’s column. The reflection is long and its by a thoughtful fellow who was a very loyal East High Grad. Karl went on to get a International Relations degree from the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington DC. After we emailed a couple of times I was impressed enough that I wanted to meet him so I took him to lunch at the India Palace. Karl is a very agreeable young fellow.

I don’t fully agree with all of Karl’s observations on Waltman’s column but they bear reading if you wish to make sense of the new ISD 709 Edison dance that is emerging.