On the 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and 30th anniversary of Leandro v. State of North Carolina, North Carolina must renew its commitment to integration and support for public schools.

RALEIGH (May 16, 2024) – Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education. The North Carolina Justice Center celebrates this ruling, one of the most impactful decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Brown affirmed that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The ruling set the stage for courageous students, educators, families, and lawmakers to finally integrate our nation’s public schools. This year is also the 30th anniversary of Leandro v. State of North Carolina, North Carolina’s landmark constitutional case which guarantees access to adequately and equitably resourced schools that provide opportunities for all children.

The integration of public schools has been beneficial to students from all backgrounds. School integration has boosted test scores, lowered drop-out rates, and increased the lifetime earnings of millions of students—Black, Brown, and white. North Carolina has many examples of successful school integration, such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, which achieved unprecedented levels of racial integration in the 1980s. Wake County’s income-based school assignment model of the early 2000s continues to be a model for districts nationwide.

We recognize that integration is not a panacea, and the reality of integration has often fallen short and has caused harm in some Black communities. And, in the past decades, lawmakers have backed away from their commitment to school integration. As a result, America’s public schools remain as segregated as they were in the 1960s. In North Carolina, the NC Justice Center has documented how lawmakers have used school assignment policies, school district lines, and school choice to divide our students.

This backsliding couldn’t be coming at a worse time. In our increasingly multiracial society, we all must be able to communicate and work collaboratively with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Integrated schools provide students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity for meaningful interactions that foster cross-cultural understanding, reducing bias and prejudice.

“In the 70 years since the Brown decision, the United States has become more diverse than ever,” said Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the NC Justice Center. “It’s time for us to harness that diversity in an intentional, equity-centered approach to our public schools. That’s how we can achieve lasting school integration and reap all the personal and societal benefits that it will bring. Integrated schools help integrate society.”

Today, we call on North Carolinians to renew our commitment to fully funded, integrated public schools. That means more than simply moving students from one school to another. Real, lasting integration provides supportive environments that foster cross-cultural and cross-racial understanding and friendships. It means providing students with well-resourced schools, access to diverse teachers, and an end to discriminatory and punitive school discipline practices.

We call on lawmakers to rethink the misguided approaches that have divided us and have stripped opportunity from too many communities of color. Our state can make the vision of lasting school integration a reality by:

Fully funding the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan: Segregation and inequitable funding in our public schools are deeply intertwined. The Leandro Plan will help rectify these inequities by dramatically improving the adequacy and equity of school funding, which are essential conditions for successful school integration plans.

Putting an end to segregationist school choice schemes: Vouchers have their roots in the shameful efforts by state leaders to avoid school integration. Today, North Carolina lawmakers are using a voucher program that results in segregated schools. Similarly, North Carolina’s charter schools are often serving as schools of white flight.

Overhauling the racist and classist school performance grade system: Our state’s school performance grade system has been intentionally designed to stigmatize public schools serving students of color and students from families with low incomes. A smarter alternative would provide families information on academic growth and a school’s success rate in eliminating opportunity gaps and segregation.

Seventy years after we first glimpsed the promise and possibility of school integration, we must continue the work to make education equity a reality.