70 Years after Brown v. Board, Sending Your Child to a Better Public School Shouldn鈥檛 Be a Crime

70 Years after Brown v. Board, Sending Your Child to a Better Public School Shouldn鈥檛 Be a Crime

In 24 states, parents and guardians can be jailed for crossing school district lines. It is past time to end public school discrimination based on home address.  

Story Stream
recent articles

In 2011, the State of Ohio arrested and convicted , a single mother seeking a better education for her two daughters. Dissatisfied with the schooling experience and concerned with safety in the district where she lived, Williams-Bolar used the address of her father — who often looked after the girls and lived close by — to enroll her daughters in a school that was a better fit.  

That, said the State of Ohio, was stealing public education. So they sent Williams-Bolar to jail.

As we honored the landmark 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in May, which declared separate public schools for students of different races unconstitutional, it's worth noting that public school districts are still spending time and resources , flouting the spirit of the decision. Chicago Public Schools sends officials inside families’ homes to determine where they live, but states have an opportunity to enact policies that in education.

A nonpartisan group of nearly 50 education organizations from across the U.S., the launched an effort earlier this year to ensure what happened to Willams-Bolar never befalls another family. And last month, No More Lines Coalition leader released a new policy on how every state can end discriminatory public school district boundary lines by 2030.

This is no small order because this is no small problem. We can trace many of today’s public school attendance zones back to the redlining practices of the 1930s-1960s, a time when families were denied enrollment in public schools that would have worked best for them because they lived in neighborhoods with high proportions of people of color, immigrants or families with low incomes. Lingering consequences persist more than 60 years later; conducted by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University discovered that students assigned to schools located in historically redlined communities underperformed compared to their peers at schools found outside of redlined neighborhoods. This impact lasts a lifetime — studies continually show that high-quality education is associated with a multitude of life outcomes, including better physical and mental health, stronger interpersonal relationships, and increased financial earnings.

At present, over 80% of families in this country send their children to public schools — that’s about 50 million kids. Those kids, overwhelmingly and in all 50 states, are assigned to a public school based on their address, which is usually based on the home or apartment their family can afford.

Even though no child should be denied opportunities because of their address, and de facto their family’s wealth, there are that criminalize families for enrolling their children in public schools that are outside of their assigned attendance zones. School officials in some states even invasive private investigators to and confirm their addresses.

These heavy restrictions in public education stand in stark contrast to other government services. You don’t have to prove you live in the neighborhood to visit a public park, library or hospital — they are public services meant for all of us to use and enjoy.

Some states are seizing the opportunity to correct the persistent injustice of address discrimination. In 2023, Idaho passed a new open enrollment law—all students in the state can now access any public school with available seats. Arkansas got rid of the artificial cap school districts used to limit students from transferring between public schools. And in New Jersey, the NAACP and the Latino Action Network to end the residential assignment of public schools.

Currently, Alaska, North Carolina and South Carolina are each considering legislation empowering students to attend the public school that works best for them.

These efforts are supported by a diverse array of Americans. In , 84% of Americans said they support giving every child in the United States the ability to attend the public school in their state that best meets their needs. Black Americans and working-class Americans were even more likely to be supportive — 92% and 87%, respectively. In fact, Williams-Bolar was eventually by then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The No More Lines Coalition organizations will continue to take on varying roles in the national campaign to eliminate discriminatory public school boundary lines. While some are elevating the issue to policymakers, others are new research and maps that illustrate the detrimental effects of redlining and explain how states can rectify this issue.

It will take this kind of strong, multi-faceted coalition to challenge a status quo that has been unjustly protected for decades. But our children, families, and communities deserve public schools that are truly open and accessible to the public.  We won’t accept anything less. 

Show comments Hide Comments