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 the implications for the Town of Hempstead are disturbing.
The 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, which fall into the following four categories: 11 intensely segregated (90 to 100 percent non-white), 10 majority Black and Hispanic (50 to 89 percent), five racially diverse (40 to 60 percent white), and 40 predominantly white (at least 70 percent).
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 most segregated districts also have more students for every guidance counselor and social worker than predominantly white districts. On average, there is one guidance counselor for 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 most segregated districts. That’s more than double the median ratio for all districts with at least one high school.
The report also found that the number of intensely segregated districts has grown from five in the 2003-04 school year to 11 now. The percentage of Black and Hispanic students in those 11 districts has also grown in this period, from 28 to 37 percent for Black students and from 13 to 36 percent for Hispanic students.
The geography of those 11 districts is also illuminating. 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 other four districts are in Suffolk County.
The six districts in the Town of Hempstead represent a majority of the intensely segregated districts on Long Island. They are Elmont, Freeport, Hempstead, Roosevelt, Uniondale and Valley Stream 30.
Elected officials representing those school districts 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, so much less revenue per student? Why do they have far fewer guidance counselors and A.P. courses? And what will those officials do about it?
A related question for all Long Islanders — elected officials, 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 U.S. 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 not, 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.
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 districts so that their schools and classrooms 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 A.P. courses, for instance. With remote teaching more common due to the coronavirus pandemic, it should be easier to envision and implement such collaborations.
All Long Islanders should consider the findings of this report. We should be asking ourselves, our elected officials, and candidates for office what we, and they, are going to do about them.
Elaine Gross is president and chief executive officer of ERASE Racism, the Long Island-based civil rights organization.