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In N.C., a new battle on school integration
In their quest to end the diversity policy, the frustrated parents have found some influential partners, among them retail magnate and Republican operative Art Pope.
Following his guidance, the GOP fielded the victorious bloc of school board candidates who railed against "forced busing." The nation's largest tea party organizers, Americans for Prosperity - on whose national board Pope sits - cast the old school board members as arrogant "leftists." Two libertarian think tanks, which Pope funds almost exclusively, have deployed experts on TV and radio.
"We are losing sight of the educational mission of schools to make them into some socially acceptable melting pot," said Terry Stoops, a researcher at the libertarian John Locke Foundation. "Those who support these policies are imposing their vision on everyone else."
Things have not gone smoothly as the new school board has attempted to define its vision for raising student achievement. A preliminary map of new school assignments did not please some of the new majority's own constituents. And critics expressed alarm that the plan would create a handful of high-poverty, racially isolated schools, a scenario that the new majority has begun embracing.
Pope, who is a former state legislator, said he would back extra funding for such schools.
"If we end up with a concentration of students underperforming academically, it may be easier to reach out to them," he said. "Hypothetically, we should consider that as well."
The NAACP and others have criticized that as separate-but-equal logic.
"It's not as if this is a new idea, 'Let's experiment and see what happens when poor kids are put together in one school,' " said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that advocates for economic integration. "We know. The results are almost always disastrous."
Many local leaders see another irony in the possible balkanization of the county's schools at a time when society is becoming more interconnected than ever.
"People want schools that mirror their neighborhood, but the bigger picture is my kid in the suburbs is connected to kids in Raleigh," said the Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh. "We're trying to connect to the world but we're separating locally? There is something wrong."