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More than one way to diversify schools

Demonstrators last December protested in Washington against the challenge to laws mandating racial integration in Seattle and Louisville schools.

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: Yesterday, the Supreme Court put a scare into supporters of affirmative action. The court said public schools can't assign students based on race alone. But race can be one component. The truth is, school districts are already trying other methods to increase diversity without using race. One idea gaining support is to take family income into account. More now from John Dimsdale in Washington.


John Dimsdale: Estimates are there are some 40 school districts around the country that use socio-economic factors to determine where students go to school. That's according to a study by the Century Foundation, a progressive think-tank. Researcher Richard Kahlenberg says the result is racial diversity without the legal problems. Plus, he says, there are other benefits.

Richard KAHLENBERG: If you want to raise academic achievement, income integration is a better way to do that than racial integration. It's not that black kids do better sitting next to white kids. But rather that low-income kids of all races do better in a middle-class environment.

Income-based integration of public schools is fine — as long as that's the real goal, says Alan Foutz. He's with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group that supported the lawsuits against race-based school attendance — the lawsuits in yesterday's Supreme Court decision.

Alan FOUTZ: If what you're trying to do is genuinely raise the educational opportunities for lower socio-economic families, that's going to pass constitutional muster. But if it is being used as a proxy for race, that's open to a challenge.

According to the Century Foundation's study, the heavy overlap between race and class in America means income-based attendance will become the preferred way to strive for public school desegregation — called for by the Supreme Court in 1954.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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