In the years after the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, many Southern states revolted against school desegregation orders. Not Florida. There, leaders accepted the orders.
Florida witnessed more dramatic integration than other states, in part because desegregation was allowed — and then embraced — by LeRoy Collins, who was Florida’s governor in the late 1950s. The state’s school systems are also organized by county — encompassing cities and their whiter, more affluent suburbs — making it easier to create demographically balanced schools.
But there is growing evidence that the schools in the nation’s third most-populous state are resegregating, according to a report released last month by the University of California at Los Angeles’s Civil Rights Project.
The trend in Florida mirrors what is happening in the rest of the nation. A Government Accountability Office report published last year found that the nation’s schools are resegregating, with the share of schools that are majority black and Latino growing.
“What’s happening is very threatening to educational equity in the United States,” said Gary Orfield, a scholar with the Civil Rights Project. Orfield and researcher Jongyeon Ee co-authored the report for the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University.
The report, called “Patterns of Resegregation in Florida’s Schools,” concludes that schools have grown more segregated since the 1990s, when the Supreme Court empowered federal district judges to undo desegregation and busing orders in their communities. The orders have been lifted in some of Florida’s largest school districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties.
This, combined with an influx of Hispanic students in some communities, has led to schools that are racially and economically isolated. Their research found that the proportion of schools that were “intensely segregated” — meaning more than 90 percent of students were nonwhite — doubled between 1994 and 2014. The proportion of schools where more than 99 percent of students were nonwhite also grew, from 2.1 percent of schools to 3.7 percent.
There is also growing economic segregation. Nearly 90 percent of students who attend schools that are more than 99 percent black or Hispanic are from low-income families. The typical black or Hispanic student in Florida attends a school where more than 60 percent of the other students are from low-income families. The typical white or Asian student attends a school where fewer than half of the other students are poor.
“This is not just a numerical gap, but a gap in school resources, education quality, academic achievement, and the environment around the school,” the authors wrote in the report.
“We have a system that very clearly puts privileged kids in stronger schools and confines students of color to high-poverty schools,” Orfield said.
Orfield said the trend cannot be explained by demographic changes alone, though the share of Hispanic students in the state doubled between 1994 and 2014. According to the report, this influx was concentrated in certain schools and communities.
The result: declining academic performance in segregated schools, which tend to have more poverty and less-experienced teachers and miss out on a variety of resources available to whiter, more affluent schools. A 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation found that after the Pinellas County School Board ended desegregation, some schools grew overwhelmingly poor and black. Teacher turnover increased and test scores plummeted, making the schools some of the worst in the state.
Orfield said there are ways to reverse the trend — including creating regional magnet programs that draw from a diverse set of neighborhoods and communities and providing transportation funding for students who want to attend schools outside their communities.
“Desegregation can’t deal with all the problems . . . but it can deal with some of them,” Orfield said, “and nothing has been done.”