Voters Approve First Step in Carving Out New School District in Louisiana
Residents of an affluent suburb in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana have voted to form their own city, the first step necessary in creating a new school district in an area currently served by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. The new district would be much more wealthy and have more white students than East Baton Rouge schools, whose current student population is about 12 percent white.
"We're going to try new things and keep our tax dollars at home," Andrew Murrell, a spokesman for the incorporation effort, told the Advocate newspaper shortly after the results were announced. "We promised better government and more local control, and now we're going to deliver it." The new city—called St. George—will have about 86,000 residents.
But critics see the vote as one more example of a growing trend of affluent areas splintering off from larger districts, leaving behind school districts that have fewer resources and more economically disadvantaged children. East Baton Rouge currently serves about 41,000 students and is the state's second largest school system.
East Baton Rouge analyzed the potential impact of a St. George school system, finding that it would drain $85 million from the district's coffers. The East Baton Rouge school system's demographics would also change; the percentage of black students would grow from 73 to 77 percent while the percentage of white students would decrease from 12 to 8 percent, the Advocate reported.
"They would be a wealthier district and we would be a poorer district," Superintendent Warren Drake told the newspaper.
The analysis also noted that if all the children currently attending school within St. George's boundaries stayed, the district would be 44 percent black and 35 percent white, with the remaining students Hispanic and Asian. However, the new city itself is about 70 percent white, so the demographics of the new school system could change.
Voting was open only to residents in the new city's proposed boundaries, 54 percent of whom said yes to incoporation. The community had tried unsuccessfully in 2012 and 2013 to form a school district, and when those attempts failed, residents switched tactics to form a new municipality first.
Recent research has found that these secession efforts worsen racial segregation in schools. Published by the American Education Research Association, the report examined seven counties in Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Together, those counties accounted for 18 of the 47 new school districts formed in the United States between 2000 and 2017.
In 2000, school boundaries accounted for about 60 percent of the segregation between black and white students in the seven counties studied. By 2015, researchers said that new school district boundaries contributed to 70 percent of the separation between black and white schoolchildren in those seven counties.
Wealthier Enclaves Breaking Away From School Districts