Opinion: Unequal resources in L.I. schools based on race

The Long Island Advocate has begun looking at segregation on Long Island, including segregation in the schools, which leads to unequal resources. Above, a screenshot from the Hempstead School District, a district of color that has been underfunded year after year, according to this LIA series (see below).

By Elaine Gross

A report just published by ERASE Racism explores how equitably educational resources are available across school districts on Long Island – and specifically whether they vary depending on a district’s racial composition. The results are startling and should be the basis of discussion across the region. The implications for the Town of Hempstead are especially disturbing.

A recent series begun recently by The Long Island Advocate found the same result.

The ERASE Racism report – “Unequal Resources for Long Island Students Based on Race” – analyzes school districts by race. Of the 125 districts on Long Island, the report focuses on 66 districts, which fall into the following four categories: 11 intensely segregated (90-100% non-White), 10 majority Black and Hispanic (50-89%), five racially diverse (40-60% White), and 40 predominantly white (at least 70%). 

The research reveals, among other findings, that the 11 intensely segregated districts have, on average, nearly $10,000 less in annual revenue per student than predominantly white districts. The intensely segregated districts also have a higher number of students for every guidance counselor and social worker than predominantly white districts. For instance, on average, there is one guidance counselor for about every 1,226 students in intensely segregated districts and one for every 356 students in predominantly white districts.

Similarly, there is an Advanced Placement course for every 179 high school students on average in the intensely segregated districts. This number is more than double the median ratio for all districts (with at least one high school).

Elaine Gross, president and CEO of ERASE Racism.

The report also found that the number of intensely segregated districts has grown – from five such districts in the 2003-2004 school year to 11 now. The percentage of Black and Hispanic students in the 11 intensely segregated districts also grew in this period, from 28 to 37 percent for Black students and 13 to 36 percent for Hispanic students.

The geography of those 11 intensely segregated districts is also illuminating. Four are in Suffolk County: Amityville Union Free School District and Wyandanch UFSD in the Town of Babylon, and Brentwood UFSD and Central Islip UFSD in the Town of Islip. Seven are in Nassau County, and six of those are in the Town of Hempstead. The seventh – Westbury UFSD – is in the Town of North Hempstead.

The six districts in the Town of Hempstead represent a majority of the intensely segregated districts on Long Island. They are Elmont UFSD, Freeport UFSD, Hempstead UFSD, Roosevelt UFSD, Uniondale UFSD and Valley Stream 30 UFSD.

Elected officials representing those school districts – and candidates for those offices at all levels of government – should be alarmed by the disparities in resources for their constituents and prioritize getting them addressed. They should be asked: Why do those intensely segregated districts have, on average, nearly $10,000 less in annual revenue per student than predominantly white districts on Long Island? Why do they have far fewer guidance counselors and AP courses? What will you do about it?

A related question for all Long Islanders – elected, civic and business leaders and ordinary citizens alike – is: Why does Long Island, with only two counties, have 125 school districts and what can be done to change the racial segregation and resource disparities inherent in that fragmentation? 

Those conditions are grounded in the structural racism on Long Island, which is one of the 10 most racially segregated metropolitan regions in the United States. The school district boundaries, student assignment policies and district funding are all shaped by racially segregated residential patterns, reflecting historical and ongoing structural racism. Whether intentional or unintentional, this racism excludes Black and Hispanic students from resource-rich school districts populated primarily by white students and simultaneously ensures that districts populated primarily by Black and Hispanic students have resource deficits. 

Regarding what can be done about it, one way of addressing the resource deficits is to bring the resources of the intensely segregated districts up to the level of predominantly white districts. In fact, one can make a strong argument that districts filled with “high-need” students should have access to more resources than those with more privileged students.

Another way to address the resource gap is to redesign the school districts so that the schools and classrooms within the districts are more racially diverse. That can be done by changing the number and footprint of those districts. It can also be done by creating collaborations between districts to increase access to AP courses, for instance. With remote teaching more common because of the coronavirus pandemic, it should be easier to envision and implement such collaborations.

All Long Islanders should consider the findings of this report. They should be asking themselves, their elected officials and candidates for office what they are going to do about them.

The author is president and CEO of ERASE Racism.