Recently, much attention has been given to the 40 percent precipitous drop in the proportion of white students attending Bibb County public schools while the population of black students has held relatively steady.
In fact, the 2016 Bibb County public school fall enrollment data showed a total enrollment of 23,988 students, with 17,354 students identified as black and 4,483 as white. This 2016 data stands in stark contrast to 20 years ago when Bibb school enrollment was 24,840 with 16,680 students identified as black and 7,829 as white.
Furthermore, the drop in the proportion of white students attending Bibb County public schools has led to a change in the racial distribution among schools. Interestingly, the latest enrollment data shows that more than 40 percent of Bibb County schools are nearly all black and of the 4,483 white students enrolled in public schools this fall, more than 1,000 of them are enrolled at the Academy for Classical Education.
In the interest of fairness, however, it should be noted that although ACE has the largest enrollment of white students in the district, it still exceeds many other Bibb schools in racial diversity. Accordingly, five schools, ACE included, have a majority white enrollment while the other 30 schools have a black majority enrollment.
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As the data suggest, the increasing concentration of minority students of color in Bibb schools reveal that school segregation is on the rise. Moreover, the data shows that from 2013-14, 66 percent of Bibb schools were overwhelmingly poor and black/Hispanic.
Schools that are overwhelmingly poor and black/Hispanic are both separate and unequal as validated by the number of failing Bibb County schools.
While there are multiple reasons for the segregation of Bibb schools, there is little debate that the concept of “school choice” i.e. public charter schools, vouchers that allow students to attend private schools with public money and policies that allow students to attend schools in districts where they do not live are major contributing factors.
With that in mind, ACE was recently approved for $35 million in bond proceeds to purchase and update its facilities. The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority issued the bonds but is not guaranteeing them. BB&T is the underwriter for the 35-year agreement which has a 5.87 percent interest rate. The bonds will be paid back through per-pupil funding from the state and a portion of Bibb County property tax proceeds which I believe is problematic since poor and minority students of Bibb County will not have a weighted opportunity to attend ACE.
Specifically, one school of thought holds that charter schools should be for students from struggling schools first and foremost. When asked about this recently, Laura Perkins, ACE’s principle and co-founder said that she couldn’t make that happened if she wanted to. Perkins went on to say, “we don’t have any control over that” and “the rules don’t allow you to do any of that.” Perkins was factually not correct.
Even with the option of a weighted lottery, Perkins still bristled at the idea of giving poor students better odds of getting through the door. Perkins stated “it’s not my job to say you need it more than I need it. I’m not full enough of myself to say that.” Still she said she might look at a weighted lottery down the road.
The Utopian Academy Act which went into effect in Georgia last year, allows charter schools to give better numerical odds to “educationally disadvantage students” in admission lotteries. While weighted lotteries aren’t mandatory for Georgia charter schools, that might change since DOE has mandated that charters must have a formal plan for diversity either when they are first chartered or when their charters are up for renewal.
Most importantly, in Macon almost 40 percent of school-aged children live in poverty. ACE is 73 percent white, which is about a quarter of the white students enrolled in the Bibb County school district.
Accordingly, people have called charter schools like ACE “white flight academies” because they are simply ways for middle class populations to create a publicly financed private school which I believe is morally and ethically problematic.
Finally, since a major portion the bonds approved for ACE will be repaid with public dollars, I believe the parents of this community must demand that ACE come up with a weighted system that allows poor and disadvantage minority students better access to ACE. Since the ACE charter will not come up for renewal for two years, I call on the Board of Education and community stake holders to take immediate action to correct this situation, our children deserve no less.
Leroy Mack is a resident of Macon.