RICHMOND, Va. (NewsNation Now) — With renewed calls for racial equity across the country, many are turning to the classroom.
Decades after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled racial segregation was unconstitutional, America’s public schools are increasingly segregated by race and class.
Congress’ watchdog agency, the U.S Government Accountability Office, found in 2016 that schools serving predominantly students of color get about $23 billion dollars less in federal funding than schools serving predominantly white students.
In Virginia, a study released last week by Virginia Commonwealth and Penn State universities found that “school segregation by race and poverty is deepening.”
Kimberly Gomez, a former teacher who lives in Richmond, Virginia, started a group to support the city’s public schools. StayRVA aims to get parents to stay and invest in the public school district instead of opting for private education or moving out of the city.
“Kind of the core piece of it is really trying to build an anti-racist coalition of Black, brown and white folks who really believe in public education,” Gomez explained.
Gomez noticed that the demographics at her neighborhood’s elementary school, Mary Munford Elementary School, didn’t reflect the rest of Richmond’s student body.
“Where I live right now is a largely white, highly privileged part of the city,” Gomez told NewsNation affiliate WRIC.
Dawn Page, who serves as chair of the Richmond School Board, said the city’s neighborhoods have segregated, and housing and socio-economics play big factors in the district’s student populations. Sixty-three percent of Richmond Public Schools students are Black, yet 75% of Mary Munford students are white.
“You don’t have to be, you know, an overt racist to say ‘I don’t want to go to school with Black kids.’ You can just buy your house in a neighborhood that is situated where there are no Black or brown or poor kids that live there,” Gomez said.
The Richmond mother noticed that many of her neighbors were sending their young children to Mary Munford, but then either paid for private school or moved out of the city for middle school.
“Because we are a predominantly African American, Black and brown school district, we are held to a different standard,” Page said.
Page believes funding and resources are a big part of why wealthier families leave RPS when it’s time for their children to enter middle school.
Gomez realized that if she really wanted to make a difference, she needed to go one step further.
“If I am a white lady saying, ‘Oh schools matter,’ then where am I putting my kid in school?” she asked.
Gomez and her husband, who’s Mexican, have three children enrolled in Richmond Public Schools. Instead of walking them to the school in her neighborhood, Gomez chooses to drive her kids three miles away to a more racially and socially diverse school.
Gomez also serves on the board of Integrated Schools, a group focused on integrating schools with equity nationwide.
“We have about 28 chapters across the country,” said Anna Lodder, who heads the group’s transitional leadership committee.
“I love my kids more than I love anybody, but I don’t think my kids inherently deserve more than anybody else’s kids,” Lodder explained.
Lodder said even when white families enroll in schools with predominantly Black or Latino students, they often do so with a “colonizing” mindset.
“We are going to set up a special program or we’re going to set up gifted and talented,” Lodder explained.
Instead, the Los Angeles mother chooses to follow rather than lead.
“Now I am just a participant. I am not president of the PTA,” Lodder said.
Lodder said Integrated Schools has seen tremendous growth in the last six months. The group also has a podcast where people can learn more and stay updated on their efforts.
Page thinks what these moms are doing is great. She said, ultimately, ending segregation comes down to mindset.
“At the end of the day, we learn so much from one another — but you have to have the willingness,” she said.
Both mothers said their kids are happy and thriving, and they call that a success. Yet, they admit it can be hard to get other families to sign on.
School factors like accreditation, testing scores and resources weigh heavily with many parents. It’s why Page says more funding and resources are needed to improve school buildings, technology and maintain quality teachers.
In the meantime, Rep. Bobby Scott, of Virginia, has introduced the Strength In Diversity Act, which establishes a grant program that provides federal funding for school districts to implement and expand efforts to integrate local schools.
Partnering with the national nonprofit Solutions Journalism Network, Nexstar stations nationwide are telling unique stories about how the pandemic has exposed inequities for students and the solutions some groups have found to bridge that gap.