Charter School Effects on Segregation

Research Rundown Issue: September '19
Publisher: Urban Institute
Date Published: July '19


There has been a lot of debate over the question of whether charter schools increase racial stratification within schools. In the first national analysis, the Urban Institute found mixed results across states and a modest overall impact. Researchers estimate that segregation would drop by five percent if charters were absent from the average district. Moreover, the report found that while charter schools have some impact within certain districts, the effect is not discernible impact across larger metropolitan areas. The analysis also noted, “Segregation that takes place under such a school choice environment is fundamentally different from the pre–Brown v. Board of Education era of de jure segregation. Segregation caused by school choice and segregation forced by government statute should not be interpreted with the same lens.”

Why This Matters in Minnesota

In 2015, Alejandro Cruz-Guzman and six other families sued the state of Minnesota alleging that racially and socioeconomically homogenous Twin Cities schools deprive students of color their constitutional right to an “adequate” education. They have asked the court to decide (1) whether the Twin Cities racially imbalanced schools meet the legal definition of segregation, and (2) if so, whether such settings can nonetheless provide an adequate education. The lawsuit implicates charters as a driver of regional segregation, raising questions about the intersection of parent choice and racial integration, and whether schools with a mission to serve students of color are part of the problem or part of the solution. This study helps offer answers around the extent to which charters contribute to racial imbalance.

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