However, one aspect of public education that is not often discussed is the potential insidiousness of school districting. In the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) in Maryland this insidiousness is coming brazenly out in the open.
Without much fanfare, schools routinely get their districts tweaked every few years to balance out school capacity as students age in and out. Back in August 2019, however, the HCPSS superintendent unveiled a radical redistricting plan that seeks to more evenly distribute students across the county by household income. In the superintendent’s own words, “Previous redistricting processes focused more narrowly on capacity utilization and other factors such as socioeconomics took a back seat. This proposal is…leading with equity as the driver to provide all students with full access and opportunity to receive the best educational services and supports.”
Having school capacity take a back seat, the proposal looks at the percentage of students in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) program at a given school as a gauge for socio-economic status. If the percentage is higher than desired, “polygons” (the subdistricts in the county allocated to a particular school) would be moved from that school’s district to another school’s district where the FARM percentage is less, and vice versa. For many, this will mean leaving their neighborhood school and going to a school farther away. Thus, a flurry of polygons are potentially shuffling around for the sake of equity.
The legislative body of Howard County is the Howard County Council. Three council members recently introduced a resolution called CR-112 in support of the redistricting plan that made things even more explicit, bringing race into the equation: “…[the Council] supports the Howard County Board of Education and Howard County Public School System in their efforts to lawfully integrate through the boundary review process and focus their efforts and resources to close the achievement gaps and racial and economic disparities in the Howard County Public School System.”
Fallacies of the Proposal
CR-112 cites the landmark Supreme Court case “Brown v. Board of Education” as justification. Unfortunately, the irony of that case is lost on the council: Oliver Brown sued the school board with the NAACP because his daughter was being bused far away to a segregated school, when there was a neighborhood school close to his house.
CR-112 also is arguably going against a 2007 supreme court decision, which forbade local school systems from integrating schools compulsorily based on race. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” said Chief Justice John Roberts at the time. The superintendent’s proposal, on the other hand, slyly avoids this pitfall by not explicitly referring to race, but focusing on socio-economic status.
Wanting to bring busing back into fashion, the superintendent is willing to accept a $2.76 million increase in transportation costs for busing students further distances in the name of equity. The cynical among us might wonder if just dividing the $2.76 million among the less affluent students could be more effective (and greener)….[ ]