When the 146,000 students in the public schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., entered their classrooms last fall, they might have found themselves in a charter school among upper-middle-class students taught by an experienced teacher with a specialized lesson plan — or in a traditional school staffed by first-year teachers, with peers too burdened by the weight of poverty to worry about test scores.
The determining factor, by and large, was whether their parents had the time, resources, connections and know-how to navigate Charlotte’s complex school choice program.
To get their child into one of Charlotte’s popular pre-K Montessori programs, where children “teach” themselves at their own pace, parents must start the application process a full year in advance — meaning nearly two years earlier than registration for regular kindergarten. Information about scholarships to cover the program’s tuition and transportation costs is not widely available. Families without the time or resources to research their options are likely to be left out of the desirable program.
The result is a school system that — after decades of progress — has slipped back to being as racially and economically segregated as it was 40 years ago.
At schools like Bruns Academy — a regular public school, despite its name, where 99 percent of students receive free or reduced-cost lunches, and 89 percent are black — the issue of segregation is being seriously addressed for the first time in years.