The Pearsall Plan revisited

by | Jan 16, 2018 | Editor's Blog, Education, NC Politics | 7 comments

In the wake of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision in 1954 that ruled segregated schools are unconstitutional, Southern states started looking for ways around the decision. In North Carolina, our government came up with the Pearsall Plan. The plan would allow students to be exempt from attending court-ordered integrated public schools and would allow for tuition vouchers for students in areas with integrated schools to attend private ones.

The plan was passed by the General Assembly with only two dissenting votes and then put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment that passed with 80% support. Of course, very few African-Americans had the right to vote. The plan was eventually found unconstitutional but succeeded in keeping North Carolina schools segregated for another 15 years after the Brown decision.

Today, the GOP is revisiting the principles of the Pearsall Plan under the guise of school choice. Charter schools and vouchers allow students to opt out of public schools, taking with them resources and support that help the most vulnerable students. A study from Duke shows the growth of charters takes money from traditional schools, leaving them strapped to provide services to students.

The GOP took office complaining about our failing public schools. Their solution was to cut per pupil spending, lift the cap on charters and introduce a voucher program. The result has been the beginning of a re-segregation of our schools. Students in charter schools are more affluent and more white.

Now, the GOP wants to enforce an unfunded mandate on public schools in the form of lowering class size without providing the money for the change. It’s a pattern of continuing to put pressure on public schools and then accusing them of being broken when they struggle to meet the needs of students. As students flee underfunded schools, traditional schools will increasingly be left with children from less privileged families.

Children have different needs and a one-size-fits-all public school system can leave a lot of children without the support they need. However, we can fix that problem without segregating our schools by race and class. We certainly don’t need a modern day Pearsall Plan.


  1. Rob Slater

    “We have long accepted that the greatest quality for the least cost can most consistently be had through competition, in many industries. Why do so many people think that the provision of educational services is somehow exempt from this rule of thumb?” (Adam) And if I may: For a wide variety of reasons too subtle, too affective, and too subjective, but no less valid than any empirical “evidence based” argument to go into here, a capitalist inspired business model, as Adam implies, for the enterprise of public education will not work…has not worked, is not working in the DeVos managed charter school monetization of the public schooling enterprise. In the broad context of public education in a participatory democracy, state and local systems and individual public schools by their very nature and mission are not automobile manufacturers, media conglomerates, nor competing fast food restaurant chains. I taught in public schools for thirty-one years, watching the attempted imposition of that business model nonsense imposed on public education in a wide variety of iterations and to varying degrees for my entire career. Square peg, round hole. And, unfortunately, the current neoliberal penchant for a business solution (privatization, monetization, for-profit) to our various national problems seems perhaps hugely problematic in itself. The underlying capitalist competitive ethos is anathema to the nurturing (intellectual and otherwise, in a very complex society) of young people.

  2. Donald Byrd

    So, Thomas what does a parent do when they have a child in a school that is not making any progress? Just let their child continue to go the the same old school. What would you do as a parent, when the scholl is not making any progress?

  3. Adam

    You can’t address the fact that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work by demanding that all parents send their kids to government schools and then throwing more money at them. Government schools ARE one-size-fits-all. All bureaucratic institutions are, by their very nature.

    We have long accepted that the greatest quality for the least cost can most consistently be had through competition, in many industries. Why do so many people think that the provision of educational services is somehow exempt from this rule of thumb?

    Just as the legal monopoly on first class mail hasn’t prevented the descent of the Postal Service into bloat, inefficiency, and runaway debt, likewise government-run schools are incapable of providing consistent quality of service at a reasonable cost across time. There are simply too many different types of students, too many different families with too many specific needs for any single educational model to serve adequately. What’s needed is competition and innovation, not trying to preserve an outdated model of instruction by forcing all parents to go to the same schools in the name of resource redistribution.

    More and more parents want a variety of options in educational choices for their children. Old business models will fall by the wayside. The only reason more old-fashioned schools haven’t gone out of business like Circuit City and Blockbuster Video is that government force is preventing them from doing so. You can keep the doors open, but you can’t legislate quality service into existence. Human Action doesn’t work that way. Quality only comes through innovation, and that only comes with freedom of choice.

    • ebrun

      The Republican-sponsored Opportunity Scholarship Program provides grants to low income families to pay tuition to the private schools of their choice. A majority of the applicants and recipients of these grants are minorities and the program is extremely popular within the state’s Black and Hispanic communities. Rather than promoting all white schools, it does just the opposite by achieving more racial diversity in private and religious schools.

      And, BTW, .it is a myth fostered by NC Democrats and liberal pundits that per pupil spending has been cut since the GOP took control of the NC General Assembly. Data from DPI refute this blatantly false and partisan claim.

      • eilene

        Ebrun, please cite your source. As a public school teacher, I know that most charter schools and private schools have a lower minority population as a whole as compared to public schools. They are also not required to provide free/reduced lunches or transportation to and from school, which leaves out more minority and low income students. They are also not required to follow the legal requirements for learning disabled students, so they tend to have a much lower percentage of learning disabled students. They can also remove any student who is a discipline issue, unlike the public schools, so they do not tend to have students with emotional issues that are classroom distractions. They ship them back to the public schools. So, with all of their advantages, they should be doing far better than the public schools on average, yet they aren’t. So, bang for your buck, they are, in general, just not the answer. Are there some seriously wonderful charter and private schools? You bet. Should we be funneling money away from public schools to fund the majority of these schools? No. If we properly fund our public schools, and get rid of the bloat at the top of our districts and our state DPI, public schools could do a wonderful job of educating our students.

        • ebrun

          The per pupil spending data is easy to look up, Eilene, but there is always a time lag. The latest data I found was for the 2014-15 school year. Total STATE funding per pupil was $5534. The last time Democrats controlled the NC General Assembly, state spending per pupil was $5,162. Since the GOP took control for the 2011-12 school year, state education spending PER PUPIL increased by 9.1 percent during that three year period. The dat shows that local education spending per pupil also increased modestly during the period. At the same time federal spending in NC per pupil was reduced substantially since.

          This data is available at DPI’s web site under Reports and Statistics. While 2015-16 data has not yet been published on their web site, one should expect a modest increase in that most public school teachers enjoyed a generous pay raise that year.

          My comment above did not address the Charter school issue. I was referring Opportunity Scholarships. the state’s so-called voucher program. This program allows recipient families to choose to send there kids to a private school of their choice. It has nothing to do with Charter schools as Charter schools are state schools. My point was that this program encourages racial diversity by providing some minority students an opportunity to attend private schools, many of which have historically been predominately white.

          No doubt Charter schools have certain advantages over traditional public schools. And I certainly agree with you about the administrative “bloat” in public education. But many of us believe choice and competition are the best way to improve public education. If Charter schools are really doing such a poor job as you and their critics claim, families should be allowed and encouraged to make thaT determination. After all, they are always free to put their children back in traditional public schools.

          Conservatives believe the goal of public education should be to support the needs of NC families, not to sustain a public education bureaucracy by leaving families little choice but to send their kids to traditional public schools.

    • Kirsten russ

      I am a public high school teacher and I teach students of all levels in different classes with different techniques. There is NO one-size-fits-all; I would be honored for you to visit my school to see the variety of teaching to address the variety of student needs. I welcome a conversation, with the facts of what occurs in our public schools.

      I believe parents want the best for their children; I believe that “we the people” want a strong country with well educated constituents. We are only as strong as our weakest link; we must work together to educate and nurture each of our weakest links. Charter schools cater to select groups; regular public schools teach all students, from the weakest to the strongest. Get involved in the local, regular, public school and support all students.

      Thank you for your interest and concern for excellent education for students.

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