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Desegregation and Busing - Innovative Approaches

Educators, government officials, and parents have all sought innovative approaches to desegregation and busing that are not merely superficial. Thinking up these approaches and implementing them is a challenge, but the fact that people are willing to seek alternatives to court-order remedies that may have inherent weaknesses is a start.

Magnet Schools

Many communities have created "magnet schools" in which students from across a community attend. These schools often emphasize particular courses of study — science or the arts, for example. Magnet schools, properly funded, can provide educational and social opportunities for children across a wide spectrum of racial and ethnic lines. Magnet schools do not keep people from moving out of the cities, however. In some places school districts have attempted to lure suburban students into inner city magnet schools. In Connecticut, cities such as Hartford and New Haven have created magnet schools that have been well received. One of the goals of these schools is to draw students from the predominantly white suburbs. As part of the state's desegregation efforts, suburban students can take part in a program called Open Choice that allows them to transfer to the inner city schools at no additional cost. Under normal circumstances, a student who goes to a district other than his or her own would have to pay tuition and transportation costs. In Connecticut, those costs are underwritten by the state.

Magnet schools are seen by many as a better way to achieve integration than charter schools, which are often created specifically to serve the needs of local neighborhoods and may not have racial or ethnic diversity as their prevailing goal (although as public entities they are subject to anti-discrimination laws).

Using Criteria Other than Race

One intriguing idea that some school districts have begun to implement is integrating schools on the basis of income rather than race. This innovative approach to desegregation and busing is an idea that was first explored in the early 1990s.. The idea behind income-based desegregation is that income may play a more critical role in a child's educational experience than race. If parents have enough money to make educational choices for their children, then it matters little what color they are; they can take their children out of the public school system or move to a more affluent community with better public schools. Wealthier schools and school districts will have more and better resources than inner-city schools, and all the students who attend will benefit. In contrast, no student benefits from attending an inner-city school with limited funds and overflowing classrooms.

Innovative approaches such as this one may provide a different frame of reference that meets the needs of students and communities better. They will also keep current in the minds of parents and school administrators the need to improve educational facilities across the board. As racial and ethnic groups become less clearly defined, it may become harder to justify any kind of desegregation plan. That said, it will also become harder to justify helping certain schools or school districts thrive at the expense of others.

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