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Study: Despite Florida's diversity, its public schools are becoming more segregated

Students line up in the courtyard at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg. A new study by the LeRoy Collins Institute in Tallahassee says black and Hispanic students in Florida increasingly attend schools with high concentrations of non-white and poor students. Last year at Lakewood, 84 percent of the students were non-white and 84 percent were economically disadvantaged. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Students line up in the courtyard at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg. A new study by the LeRoy Collins Institute in Tallahassee says black and Hispanic students in Florida increasingly attend schools with high concentrations of non-white and poor students. Last year at Lakewood, 84 percent of the students were non-white and 84 percent were economically disadvantaged. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 27, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

"Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others," the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend "intensely segregated" schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-15 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-95.

The more heavily segregated schools had more poor students. In schools with at least a 50 percent nonwhite school body, low-income students represented 68 percent of the population. Low-income students represented 82.5 percent of the population in the schools with a 90 percent or greater nonwhite student body.

"Florida is the third-largest state in the country and has the most diverse student body in our state's history, yet one-fifth of our public schools are intensely segregated," said Carol Weissert, a Florida State University political scientist who leads the Collins Institute. "Similar segregation is evident for low-income students. All Floridians deserve equal access to a quality education, regardless of race or economic standing."

Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles who helped write the report, said the review of school data over the last two decades showed a "resegregation" of schools as well as a "demographic revolution."

Since 1980, Hispanic students have increased from 8 percent of Florida students to about 31 percent in 2014, the report showed. White students declined from 68 percent to just under 41 percent, while black students remained about 22 percent during that period.

The study also showed that the number of students defined as low-income has been rising over the last two decades, increasing from 36 percent in 1994-95 to nearly 59 percent in 2014-15.

Calling the trend "double segregation," the report showed typical black students were likely attending schools with 68 percent low-income students, and Hispanic students were in schools with a 65 percent low-income population, "while the typical white student and Asian student are in schools where less than half of the students are poor."

"The schools concentrate students not only by race but also by poverty," Orfield said in a video link to the conference, which was held Wednesday at Florida State.

John Due, a prominent civil rights attorney and activist, said the problem facing Florida schools is not just about racial balance.

"It's about poverty. It's about class," he said. "I hope we begin to look at the real issues and dealing with class."

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said education leaders need to review the report's data, which he called "alarming," but they also must "dig deeper into how we got to where we are today."

Students facing challenges like poverty, lack of health care or mental health services "show up in public schools every morning," said Montford, a former Leon County superintendent.

At the same time, Montford said, traditional public schools are vying for financial support while the state is increasing other education options, including charter schools, virtual classrooms and the use of publicly funded vouchers and scholarships to send students to private schools.

"When it comes to education in Florida, we take the cheap route," Montford said. "We need to step up and provide these services to these children."

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