Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Want To See How School Choice Leads to Segregation? Visit Betsy DeVos’ Hometown

Don’t believe me? Take a look.

By Jennifer Berkshire / Have You Heard May 18, 2017

To see for yourself how school choice leads to segregation, I recommend a visit to Betsy DeVos’ hometown of Holland, MI.

Here, two decades of the policies that the Trump/DeVos education budget now wants to take national, have resulted in white flight and school closures, leaving Holland’s poor and minority students segregated in the few schools that remain open. I traveled to Holland last week for the annual Tulip Time festival, a celebration of the city’s Dutch heritage. But along with Dutch shoes and swagger, the legacy of Michigan’s now two decade-long experiment with school choice was on vivid display as well, and it wasn’t pretty.

First, some background. During the endless runup to DeVos’ confirmation hearing last year, it was the Wild West-style school choice she’d pushed in Detroit that garnered most of the attention. But DeVos was also behind Michigan’s inter-district choice policies that, starting in 2000, *disrupted* neighborhood attendance zones, just as the Trump Administration’s proposed budget seeks to do. In Michigan, school choice has become the new white flight as white families have fled their resident districts for schools that are less diverse. The most dramatic example of this may be in DeVos’ own home town of Holland.

The choice to segregate

Since Michigan adopted the school choice policies DeVos is now pushing across the country, Holland’s white enrollment has dropped by more than 60%, as students decamped for public schools or charters in whiter communities nearby. The students who remain in the Holland Public Schools are now majority Hispanic and overwhelmingly poor—twice the schools’ poverty rate when Michigan’s school choice experiment began.  Many of these students are the children of migrant farm workers who came to this part of the state to pick fruit; school choice enabled Holland’s white families to pick not to attend school with them. One in three students in Holland no longer attends school there, and since the money follows the child in the Mitten State, yet another DeVos priority, white flight has eaten the district’s finances too.

In 2000, Holland had fifteen schools. Now it has just eight. Of nine Holland schools that once served elementary students, just two are left. By 2009, even the elementary school where DeVos’ mother once taught had been shuttered. As students flee for schools in communities like Zeeland, the future of Holland’s public schools looks increasingly dire. Already there are mutterings in this wealthy, Dutch-dominated community that the school population *doesn’t represent* Holland. And as DeVos well understands, a community that has little stake in its schools is unlikely to shell out money to pay for them.

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