Jessica: Here in Little Rock, Arkansas, white and black students play in the same band. Seems normal, right? Well, it used to be against the law. In the 1950s, the Supreme Court changed that. Nine black students bravely attended an all-white school for the first time in 1957 with the help of the National Guard.
Keeping students separate because of color is history. But because of where students live, some schools remain divided by race. Schools out here are predominately white, school in the inner city are mostly minorities. Schools have tried to change this. They have set up ways to increase diversity through desegregation programs. This allow Tyler to attend a mostly white elementary school with more resources than the one near her house.
Tyler: I’m so thankful I had that opportunity. If I didn’t have that opportunity, I don’t know where my educational level would be right now.
Jessica: But a judge recently ruled that desegregation funding should stop. Without the money, classrooms could become split by color lines once again. So, should the government spend money to keep schools diverse? We asked students around Little Rock what they thought.
“I enjoy that our mindsets are broken from when we’re in other atmospheres. It’s a different atmosphere at Parkview.”
Jessica: Parkview Magnet High School intentionally admits a diverse mix of students. Most of the white students bus in from the suburbs, which costs money. They come for special science programs and classes like ballet. If funding for this stops, administrators say the school will become mostly African-American.
“I think I would be devastated if that happened because a lot of my friends are coming from different locations, different districts. A lot of my friends aren’t the same race I am, so if that weren’t the case, I don’t know where I would go because I go to my friends for advice and things. And if I didn’t have them, I’d be a wreck.
“It makes me sad that this is something that students of future generations won’t be able to be a part of because it’s something that’s such an amazing experience, and there’s nothing else like it. And without the funding, there’s not another way to create it at this point.”
“There’s no judgment here. Everybody can just be themselves, and it’s not usually like that in high school. In all the movies there are the cliques, and there are no cliques at Parkview.”
“I think being at a school that allows you to accept different things is better for. When you are in the working space, you’re not going to know people or be with people of just your race or your interest. So, it’s better to be able to start out early in life to begin to accept that, so when you’re an adult you have a better mindset of what you’re going to go into.”
Jessica: Across town at North Little Rock, seniors are posing for their class picture.
“If you’re making a gang sign, I’ll take you out of the picture. Here we go.”
Jessica: The school was once almost all black. Now, over a third of its students are white. As with Parkview, they come from other districts.
“See, he can wear Jordans. I can wear cowboy boots and we can still be friends.”
Jessica: CJ buses in from the suburbs. He says he has become more comfortable with people who are different.
CJ: Going into this, I wasn’t a very open-minded person. I was very sheltered, had a closed mind, didn’t see the things or meet the people I have.
Jessica: In the wealthier suburbs, African-Americans go to what would otherwise be an almost all-white school.
Jasmine: Talked to your boyfriend yet?
Jessica: Jasmine buses in from downtown every day. Without that service, she says, she couldn’t attend a top program.
Jasmine: I would feel sad because this is the school I like and would rather be at than every other school.
Jessica: Studies show programs like these help students of color do better academically. White students become more comfortable living in an interracial society. But here is the problem: they cost a lot. The state has been paying $70 million a year for these programs because of a lawsuit that happened over twenty years ago. It is too much, says Arkansas’ attorney general.
McDaniel: The taxpayers of the entire state shouldn’t be obligated to be embroiled in litigation with three districts forever. It is time for the litigation to end.
Jessica: It is not just Little Rock. Across the country, desegregation programs are ending. Researchers say schools are becoming less diverse every year.
“We need to have a plan to make this work as a successful multiracial community, and we don’t have it yet. And we’re giving up on the partial solutions that we did have from the past.
Jessica: Orfield says state governments should step in. He says the health of our cities depends on it. Students agree.
“I think if we had more schools like Parkview, Little Rock wouldn’t just be Little Rock. It would be Little Rock. It would just be great.”
Jessica: As for Tyler, she benefited from programs that may soon be gone. Now she is the student body president at Central, where African-American students once couldn’t even attend.
“Central has come so far and it needs the… to… transfer more than anything because of what we represent. And I think we’re a perfect example of a working learning environment that looks like our society today.