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Giving Compass' Take:
• Kalyn Belsha and Koby Levin explain how the Milliken v. Bradley Supreme Court case is shaping school segregation in Detroit.
• How can funders address long-standing segregation in America? What do cases like this one mean for efforts to address segregation?
There is little talk today of improving education in Detroit through racial integration.
While cities like New York and Chicago have taken small steps recently to mix up their racially divided schools — acknowledging that in some neighborhoods, mostly-white schools exist not far from schools serving mostly students of color — in Detroit, nearly every student is black or Hispanic. White students are concentrated outside the district’s invisible boundaries, in suburban schools that surround the city.
Many have accepted this dynamic in Detroit and other communities across the country as a fact of life. But the stubborn persistence of those divisions can be traced back to Milliken v. Bradley, a pivotal Supreme Court case decided 45 years ago Thursday.
Though few know the case by name, it’s come to define how we think about school desegregation, particularly in the north.
The decision limited the courts’ ability to involve suburban districts in efforts to desegregate city schools unless it could be proven that they’d intentionally kept students out — an extraordinarily high bar. That made desegregation efforts that cross district lines exceedingly rare, and left some cities with few options to truly integrate their schools.
“The sorry state of racial integration in modern times can be understood as a major legacy of Milliken v. Bradley,” said Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School who has written about the impact of Supreme Court decisions on public school students. The Milliken decision, he said, meant that “the nation as a whole was not going to be required to pursue meaningful racial integration.”
Understanding Milliken v. Bradley is important as school desegregation continues to make national headlines in the wake of a tense exchange between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden over the role of busing as a means to desegregate schools.
Read the full article about school segregation in Detroit by Kalyn Belsha and Koby Levin at Chalkbeat.