New State Role Called Essential To Urban-Suburban Integration
Rochester, N.Y.--Educators and desegregation advocates from five states, addressing a statewide invitational conference here last week, took a hard look at voluntary school-integration efforts, past and present, and found themselves in consensus on these points:
Racial isolation in many urban schools, particularly in Northeastern states, is assuming crisis proportions and demands the immediate attention of communities, school administrators, and state legislators.
New strategies are essential and should be directed toward "cost-effective" remedies.
Communities as a whole, especially parent groups, must become involved if integration efforts are to succeed.
Desegregation programs must be regarded as mutually beneficial to cities and suburbs for socioeconomic and cultural reasons as well as for their educational value.
The conference, billed as a first step toward developing a plan for improving interest in voluntary integration in New York state, ended with several delegates calling for the formation of an activist coalition to advance desegregation goals.
Officials of the University of Rochester Graduate School of Education and Human Development, one of the sponsors of the conference, promised to explore that possibility and to keep in close touch with all conference participants.
The sessions were cosponsored by Rochester's Urban-Suburban Inter-District Transfer Program (Project us) with financial support from the Wilson Foundation. The meeting drew 85 invited participants, including local school officials, businessmen, and minority leaders.
Participants focused on existing desegregation programs that have served as national models, including those in Milwaukee, Boston, Rochester, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn. The speakers included widely recognized experts and researchers on the subject of integration, including Benjamin Williams, associate superintendent in the Chicago public schools' office of equal educational opportunity, and Gary Orfield, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and author of major integration studies for the Brookings Institution and the Ford Foundation.
While Mr. Williams urged school districts to incorporate desegregation efforts into their regular school programs, supported by local budgets, Mr. Orfield emphasized the need for involvement on the part of state governments. Only a few states now provide incentives for desegregation.
"We must reason with legislators and state authorities to convince them it is in their own best interest to initiate desegregation programs before they are ordered to do so," he said. "If there is to be any action in desegregation, voluntary or mandatory, the state has to be involved. In the absence of federal funding, the state's role is inescapable."
Other conference leaders, including David Bennett, deputy superintendent of the Milwaukee schools, pointed to the leadership of state governments in Massachusetts and Wisconsin in addressing desegregation and problems in minority schools.
In April 1976, explained Mr. Bennett, the Wisconsin legislature enacted the so-called "Chapter 220" plan, which allowed students within Milwaukee to attend city schools of their choice to offset racial isolation. It also permits student transfers between the city and 13 suburban schools, all without loss of state revenue to participating districts.
Transfers within the city district last year involved 25,000 students, netting a 33-percent increase in state aid per pupil for the Milwaukee school district. Surplus revenues in turn were used to set up magnet schools to attract suburban youngsters. In addition, another 1,175 students were bused voluntarily between Milwaukee and its suburbs under individual contractual arrangements, with the state continuing aid payments to both the sending and receiving schools.
Wisconsin spent a total of $25 million on desegregation efforts last year, attesting to the state's commitment "to promote cultural and racial integration ... through the provision of special aid," he said.
Similarly, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has provided backing for desegregation, delegates were told, through metco (Metropolitan Council for Education Opportunity), a nonprofit community group that uses state funds and private grants to transport minority students from Boston to some 200 schools in 36 communities surrounding the city.
Operation of Rochester's urban-suburban program (Project us) was described by its director, George Simmons, and his predecessor, Norman Gross.
Begun in 1965, the voluntary desegregation effort has continued through the years with varying degrees of success. Currently, it arranges for transporting 1,000 city students to six suburban districts which picked up the administrative costs of the program when federal support ended last year. Now, a portion of the $93,000 cost is reimbursed to the schools as state aid through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, a regional office of the state education department that administers the program.
In addition to city transfers, some 200 suburban students attend Rochester programs. Transportation monies totaling $350,000 are provided by the state.
Like the Rochester area schools, suburban districts in Hartford continued the integration effort even after federal funds were cut, keeping afloat Project Concern. Community efforts were launched to keep the minority students enrolled in suburban schools, with district boards of education waiving tuition payments and teachers offering to give up a portion of their salary increments. Further cooperation between city and suburban staffs have since concentrated on individual students' needs, and the participating school districts are seeking other sources of funds, including business corporations.
"Our experience shows we have a lot of friends out there in the suburbs," said William Paradis, administrator of the Hartford project. "Once the need arises, these friendships surface. We must solidify these gains and build on them while maintaining our relationship and our programs."
Finally, the importance of diversity and innovation in desegregation efforts was emphasized by Charles Glenn, director of the bureau of equal education opportunity in the Massachusetts Department of Education. He outlined possible magnet-school programs that emphasize cultural differences as examples of educational strategies to offer options to minority students while at the same time encouraging racial understanding.