Segregation still the norm in Philadelphia schools

PHILADELPHIA — In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that segregation in schools was unconstitutional. It took another 25 years to make any changes in the educational system in some cities, even in the North.

The fight to desegregate Philadelphia schools began in 1970 when the state Human Relations Commission filed a complaint against the Philadelphia School District for its segregated school system. The commission ordered the district to eliminate its racist segregation by 1974.

Unfortunately, the district never complied, but attempted to pacify the commission by integrating only some of its schools.

“Magnet schools” were set up to accommodate equal numbers of African American and white students, even though white students were a minority in the district. Voluntary busing was instituted, but this consisted of only transporting African American students from their neighborhoods to schools in northeast Philadelphia. This did little to reduce segregation in Philadelphia.

More than 30 years after the commission filed its complaint, racial segregation continues to be a problem here. Of the total population of the Philadelphia School District in 2003-2004, 65 percent are African American, 14.5 percent Latino, 14.2 percent white, 5.3 percent Asian, and 0.2 percent Native American. There are 107 schools with more than a 90 percent African American population, but only one, Bridesburg, that is more than 90 percent white.

Fifty-nine schools are racially diverse, but less than 10 percent of their population is white. The three magnet schools — Central, Girls and Masterman High Schools — are 39 percent African American, 35 percent white, 19 percent Asian and 6 percent Latino.

The most disturbing numbers are seen in the total per-pupil spending in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, where the majority of students are African American, the total per-pupil spending is $9,299. The median for the state of Pennsylvania is $11,166 per student. The highest per-pupil spending is in Lower Merion Township — $17,261. Lower Merion Township is predominantly white.