The recent vote by the Austin Independent School District school board to approve its facilities master plan is a troubling sign of continued educational inequality. Most concerning is the board’s decision to leave on the table the possibility of closing five elementary schools with predominantly Latino and African-American student populations, as well as its approval to move the Liberal Arts and Science Academy from its current location at Lyndon Baines Johnson High School to a more central location.
The 6-3 vote is telling of a group that does not care to understand the erasure of historical East Austin caused by gentrification. Between misguided school board votes like this one, as well as our City Council generally offering a rubber stamp approval on East Austin zoning changes from residential to mixed-use/commercial development, I anticipate the East Austin I grew up in to be nearly erased in the near future.
I attended LBJ High School as a student of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. I left East Austin to attend Brown University, teach high school, and later, attend Stanford Law. I returned a few years ago to an ever-increasing rate of gentrification.
Though East Austin is at no risk of losing microbreweries or expensive French bistros, we are in danger of losing our public schools because a significant number of new East Austin residents either don’t have children or choose to send their children to private schools. Since school funding is based on attendance, East Austin public schools lose funding as a direct result of gentrification. And both City Council and the Austin ISD school board facilitate this gentrification.
That Austin ISD Board Trustee Yazmin Wagner can say “it’s unfortunate that politics are getting in the way of us being able to unanimously pass a facility master plan” demonstrates an inexcusable misunderstanding of educational equity for a school board member. We know that de facto segregation is actually increasing.
According to research, 30 years ago a black student would typically attend a school where 40 percent of students were low-income; now that figure is roughly 60 percent. Research also shows that economic disadvantages hinder student performance and that attending schools with homogeneous student populations facing these disadvantages hinders student performance even more.
Access to a great education is a fundamental right for all children. In an attempt to help obtain that right for children, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren famously wrote the majority opinion in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Unfortunately, this school board vote was a step in the wrong direction toward obtaining educational equity, especially considering Austin’s historical and current segregation.
Austin is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. According to data from University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, we are the most economically segregated large metro area in the U.S. According to research by UT Austin professor Eric Tang, Austin is the only city out of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the country with a declining African-American population. Tang, an assistant professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at the University of Texas, suggests that is due to the significant gentrification in East Austin.
While there are benefits some students may enjoy because of this vote to move LASA from LBJ, there is no compelling reason — given the impact of gentrification and segregation on educational equity — that the current LBJ facilities should not be expanded to accommodate more LASA students, as suggested by members of the Austin school board who voted in opposition.
Austin has a reputation for being progressive and “weird,” but there is nothing “weird” about sacrificing the future of public schools in African-American and Latino communities to make things more convenient for wealthier, white students. In fact, it unfortunately seems unapologetically normal for a city with a history of vehemently opposing mandatory busing to integrate schools.
Ramos-Lynch is an alumnus of Eastside Memorial High School and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. He is a practicing attorney and a small-business owner.