Austin schools with 90 percent Hispanic and black students seek to end racial disparities

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School leaders are trying to find ways to end significant racial disparities in Austin, where black and Hispanic children make up at least 90 percent of the student body in more than half of the city's public schools.

White students make up only a quarter of all students in Austin public schools, but they are the majority in the district's two most coveted magnet programs and at 30 other campuses primarily on the city's more affluent west side.

Trustees with the Austin Independent School District say busing students across town or altering district boundaries won't be considered. But one idea is to place popular academic programs in schools with high percentages of poor or minority students to attract more middle-class and white students to those schools, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The newspaper's analysis of district demographics found that 50 of the district's 130 schools have 90 percent or more students who are low-income, while white students make up 10 percent or less of the student body at 64 schools. Black students make up only about 1 percent of enrollment at the district's two prized magnet schools, which are mostly filled with white students from more affluent families.

Those disparities linger more than 30 years after the district was declared integrated by the courts in 1983. The district only reluctantly complied with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

"We're faced with the same educational challenges that we had in terms of educating kids of color and kids of lower economic status that we had 50, 60, 80, 100 years ago in Austin," said trustee Ted Gordon, who represents neighborhoods with a higher concentrations of minority students. "To not take up this challenge condemns us to 50 more years of something which I know is morally unacceptable."

Racial and economic disparities also affect schools outside academics. For example, the majority of schools in Austin's low-income neighborhoods get little to no recess time, while children at more than 80 percent of the district's more affluent elementary school campuses get daily unstructured play time.

Michael Casserly is executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a network of urban districts that advocates for inner-city students. He has challenged Austin officials to consider whether they have the tools to make progress and if they're prepared to withstand community pushback.

"I'm trying to be real about what it is you create," Casserly recently told trustees. "I'd hate to see, even with a perfectly laudable goal and moral imperative, that you set your administration up where they couldn't make progress on it in a way the board could withstand politically."

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