The lives of Baton Rouge’s students, especially those who live in the city’s overwhelmingly African American north side, recently got more difficult and their opportunities more constrained with the secession of the city of St. George from the Parish of East Baton Rouge.
From Memphis to Maine, critics of struggling public schools have increasingly turned to this secession tactic to the detriment of disadvantaged students and their families. Proponents of the strategy have subdivided the nation’s patchwork of 13,000 school districts into an even more convoluted system of townships and municipalities to keep in-group resources within wealthier communities and poorer students out. Leaders of the movement claim they want to preserve the tax revenue from areas with higher property values for themselves and their children.
Because of America’s history of neighborhood and school segregation, the movement in many ways advances a new form of racial segregation that cripples public schools, especially those serving poor children of color. It also undermines municipal infrastructure and transportation systems and makes life more difficult for all residents. In south Louisiana, it even contributes to flooding.
Education has long been divided by race in the United States. Enslavers passed state laws to prevent enslaved men, women and children from learning how to read and write, recognizing that education was a form of power to be conserved. After emancipation, even as African Americans became citizens with a right to education, white elites sought to keep schools overwhelmingly segregated, leaving African Americans with badly underfunded schools.
In 1874, the newly elected majority-black Orleans Parish School Board embarked on an integration plan, much to the dismay of the city’s white supremacists, who had overthrown the state government in a violent coup only months before. Conservative newspapers in New Orleans floated several possible responses, including withdrawing white children and sending them to private schools.