American Renaissance

Racial Balance Slips in Colorado Schools

Study: State among least integrated in U.S. for Hispanics

Robert Sanchez, Rocky Mountain News, January 20, 2004

Colorado schools are among the least integrated in the nation for Hispanic children, a Harvard University study has found.

And minorities across the state find themselves increasingly segregated at school. The study found that the percentage of Colorado’s black and Hispanic children in majority white schools slipped dramatically from 1991 to 2002.

Harvard’s Civil Rights Project, which released the study just before Monday’s holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., indicates that Colorado isn’t alone.

Since busing to achieve racial balance started to end across the country in the 1980s, students find themselves separated.

“We cannot celebrate Dr. King … without thinking about what happens if the dream becomes a nightmare,” the report says.

The findings for Colorado:

• Sixty-two percent of Hispanic students in 1991-92 attended a majority white school — one of the highest percentages in the country at the time. Ten years later, it was 44 percent, putting Colorado near the bottom third of all states. (According to the Colorado Department of Education, the number of Hispanic students in the state increased from 107,000 in 1993 to 192,000 in 2003.)

• Colorado still is among the top 10 states when it comes to integrating black students — but the percentage fell 16 points in 10 years.

• Nearly one in five black students two years ago was in a school where 90 percent to 100 percent of the children were minorities.

For those who have studied race in Colorado, especially in Denver, the issue is less about segregation and more about education equality and funding.

“The challenge isn’t ethnicity these days; it’s socioeconomic status and making sure all children are learning, no matter where they are,” said Theresa Peña, a Denver Public Schools board member.

As a child, she was named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the district that eventually led to mandated busing.

Denver’s busing plan started in 1974, after the U.S. Supreme Court found that the school system was an unconstitutional “dual” system. Crosstown busing of black, Anglo and Hispanic children continued through September 1995, when U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that Denver had wiped out the “vestiges of past discrimination . . . to the extent practicable.”

Elementary school students stopped riding buses the following fall, at the start of the 1996-’97 school year. Middle and high school students followed a year later.

“Now there’s the new phenomenon where schools are becoming more representative of the neighborhoods where these children live,” Peña said. “Denver itself is segregated. It’s not a surprise to anyone.”

“Segregation is not the problem,” said former DPS board member Bennie Milliner, now manager for community relations and development for the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver.

“I’m more worried about inequities in funding and getting higher-skilled teachers in some of these schools that need help,” he said. “It’s not going to make a (black student) work better if they’re sitting next to a white child.”

The Harvard report dissected school district data given to the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the report, California was considered the most segregated state for both black and Hispanic students.

Kentucky was the most integrated for blacks, and Wyoming was the most integrated for Hispanics.

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.