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.