LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Jefferson County board of education considered scrapping its desegregation plan five years ago and installing a new system that factored family income into the equation.
That idea was quickly dismissed by board members, but one the board may revisit after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the county's desegregation plan last week.
"It may be one of the few ways (to maintain diversity)," said school board member Steve Imhoff, who proposed the income-based plan in 2002. "At the time people thought, 'Why change something that's working?' But now we've got to do something else."
Around 40 school districts across the country are already using income-based school assignment to address diversity, though a report by the Century Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, said the politics have been "heated."
Pat Todd, director of student assignment in Jefferson County, said any income-based assignment plan could be difficult to manage because income levels change over time. It could be particularly complex in Louisville, where the majority of students are middle class.
The board is in no hurry to find a quick resolution. A federal judge will oversee the process, which will include input from the community.
Supporters of a socio-economic plan say poverty - and not race - has become the new battleground. A U.S. Department of Education report in the late-1990s showed that high school students in low-income families read at the same level as an average middle-class eighth-grader.
Traci Priddy, incoming president of the Jefferson County Parents and Teachers Association, said more affluent families have more time and money to invest in their children's education.
"If their income isn't good, they're too busy working," Priddy said.
Some board members, however, have not embraced the idea of using socio-economic guidelines.
"It's OK to discriminate because they are poor, but not because of their race?" said board member Carol Ann Haddad. "I think we'd be back in court."
The districts who have already adopted income-based school assignment parameters have met with mixed results.
A plan used in San Francisco that factored in economic status, language and achievement, gave students more economic diversity, but decreased racial diversity since most parents chose to keep their students in their neighborhood school.
The percentage of racially integrated schools in La Crosse, Wis., rose from 44 percent to 83 percent.
Wake County, N.C., dropped racial guidelines for economic ones in 2000 and has seen test scores improve despite resistance from parents who were bothered by long bus rides.
Despite protests and court challenges that income is simply serving as a substitute for race, the courts have upheld the constitutionality of income-based assignments.
Information from: The Courier-Journal,
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)