Two new studies provide a remarkable look at education inequities on Long Island. They offer a view that is both distressing and instructive. Given that New York has the most segregated schools in America, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, these studies should be the basis for a regional commitment to addressing these inequities.
The studies were released by two Long Island institutions - ERASE Racism and the Long Island Index - at an education forum convened by ERASE Racism last week in Melville. The forum brought together school administrators and education advocates and was the first step in drawing these studies and their implications to the attention of a wider audience.
The study by ERASE Racism - titled "Heading in the Wrong Direction: Growing School Segregation on Long Island" - revealed that, based on 2000 and 2010 Census data, Long Island continues to be one of the most racially segregated regions in the country, with segregation between blacks and whites remaining extremely high and segregation between Latinos, Asians and whites increasing. Long Island is more segregated by race than by income - with black and Latino families, regardless of income, experiencing high levels of racial segregation. For example, on average a black household that earns more than $75,000 resides in a neighborhood with a similar level of exposure to whites as a black household that earns less than $40,000.
According to the study, racial segregation, combined with concentrated poverty in majority black and Latino neighborhoods, perpetuates a public school system that is separate and unequal. Ninety-one percent of all students in high-need districts are black or Latino. Few of Long Island's black and Latino students have access to the highest-performing schools on Long Island. Based on graduation rates, 3 percent of black students, 5 percent of Latino students, 28 percent of white students and 30 percent of Asian students on Long Island have access to the highest-performing school districts.
The report by the Long Island Index, which is published by the Rauch Foundation, of which I am President, was written by William Mangino, PhD, and Marc Silver, PhD, both sociology professors at Hofstra University. Titled "Still Separate & Not Getting More Equal: The Persistence of Economic and Racial Inequalities in Education on Long Island", it revealed that the poorest school districts on Long Island were the hardest hit by the recession.
From 2009 to 2011, the average student in a High Poverty District saw expenditures on her education decrease by $1,100. Students in Mid Poverty Districts did not experience a decline in funding - only a leveling-off. From 2003 to 2012 (the latest data available), Low Poverty Districts increased their spending unabated, even seeing the largest single-year increase in revenues and expenditures from 2009 to 2010. From 2003 to 2012, the gap in financial resources between Long Island's most privileged students and its most vulnerable students widened. In 2003, the gap in per-pupil expenditures was $2,600 (in 2013 dollars); in 2012, it was $6,000.
The report also analyzed the "fiscal cushion" of a school district, which reveals surplus funds and is calculated by subtracting expenditures from revenues for a given year. From 2003 to 2012, Low Poverty Districts averaged a cushion of $565 per student, while Mid Poverty and High Poverty Districts averaged cushions of $341 and $252, respectively. From 2005 to 2012, however, High Poverty Districts and Mid Poverty Districts saw a net decline in their fiscal cushion (respectively, 46 percent and 23 percent decreases), while overall Low Poverty Districts enjoyed a 331 percent increase.
Since 2006, schools in both Low and Mid Poverty Districts have also been getting smaller, while High Poverty Schools have been getting larger. In 2013, the average school in a Low Poverty District had 614 students, in a Mid Poverty District had 693 students and in a High Poverty District had 753 students. Schools in Low Poverty Districts are overwhelmingly white; schools in High Poverty Districts are predominantly Latino and black.
Educational inequality is firmly in place on Long Island, and addressing it should be a high priority for elected officials and residents of Long Island. If we expect public education to be the great equalizer - giving all students equal access to the American dream - we will have to confront the realities evident in these studies and make changes.
Addressing those educational inequalities requires tackling housing discrimination. With 125 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, there is no separating the two issues.
The economic future of Long Island is tied to our ability to create the best possible workforce for the 21st century. Key to that is providing a first-rate education in a broadly diverse social environment throughout the region. All Long Islanders deserve it, and all depend upon it.
Nancy Rauch Douzinas is President of the Long Island-based Rauch Foundation.