The Southern Education Foundation has released a new report that explodes the myth that charters and vouchers increase opportunity for students of color and low-income students. Far from it. Privatization via charters and vouchers has intensified racial segregation and is reversing the Brown Decision of 1954. The disreputable concept of “separate but equal” is returning under the guise of “school choice.”




CONTACT: Autumn Blanchard


State-funded “separate but unequal” education billed as opportunity for underrepresented


MARCH 29, 2016 – The Southern Education Foundation (SEF), an advocate for equity in education, releases Race & Ethnicity in a New Era of Public Funding of Private Schools: Private School Enrollment in the South and the Nation. This report explores the phenomenon of publicly funded private school segregation occurring more than 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education verdict declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. It closely examines racial demographics in contemporary private schools and finds that they remain segregated, with white students significantly overrepresented as compared to public school populations.


Currently, 19 states have programs that provide public funding to support children’s attendance in private schools. Last year alone, approximately $1 billion was diverted to private schools from state treasuries across the country, spreading thinner already limited resources. Though such state initiatives exist in each region of the nation, they are especially concentrated in the South.


“The prevailing message is that these voucher and neo-voucher tax credit scholarship programs offer better or more opportunities to students of color and low-income students…the data does not reflect that story,” said Dr. Kent McGuire, president of SEF. In reality, it perpetuates a trend of financially supporting private schools that as a whole remain overwhelming white – no less than 75 percent of all white students in private schools attend schools where 90 percent or more of the student body is white. As segregation persists in private schools, the demographics of public schools shift toward an increasingly diverse student body – fertile ground for the reemergence of a “separate but unequal” education system.


Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics from 1998 and 2012, this brief and the accompanying Southern state profiles review several indicators of racial demographics and segregation in public and private schools including: overrepresentation of white students, disproportionate white enrollment rates, virtual segregation (90% or more white student population), and virtual exclusion of students of color. All of which suggest that segregation persists in private schools across the country and especially in the South.


The six Deep South states, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, which resisted the constitutional mandate for school desegregation the longest are the worst offenders in the nation by far – demonstrating that state support of private schooling does not appear to have led to greater access for students of color. These six states had a considerably higher rate of overrepresentation among white students in private schools than any other section or region in 2012. Five of the six states were at the top of the state rankings in 2012 and the sixth, Alabama, was ranked tenth.



Despite laws against segregation and in contrast to public schools, private schools with and without public funding continue to select which students they will admit. As long as the private school adopts a non-discriminatory policy and publicly declares that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin they are eligible to receive public funds in states with programs that allow for the shifting of funds to private institutions. However, enrollment patterns show that this measure primarily gives only lip service to a commitment to diversity. Despite these trends, black students can still often be found on promotional materials produced by private schools and scholarship organizations. This leaves the false impression that primarily students of color are served by such voucher initiatives and supports the oft-championed messaging that greater access to private institutions is available for students of color, which is often not the case.


The study’s findings and analysis are reminiscent of the overall patterns and conditions of attendance in private schools in the South that the authors of The Schools That Fear Built found in 1976 in the aftermath of massive resistance to desegregation: “These are schools for whites. The common thread that runs through them all, Christian, secular, or otherwise, is that they provide white ground to which blacks are admitted only on the school’s terms if at all.” This study suggests that today’s “common thread” also encompasses the exclusion of Hispanic and Native American students, as well as African American students.


“Because we must preserve the fundamental democratic principle that each child in this nation should have an opportunity for a good education, schools funded by tax dollars – be they private or public – should not be allowed to pick and choose only the students they wish to admit and educate. We know from this report the consequences: most unregulated private schools, left on their own in the South and the nation, have failed to admit any significant number of students of color,” said Steve Suitts, adjunct lecturer of Emory University who developed and wrote the report while serving at the Southern Education Foundation in his last year as a senior fellow. The prospect for better academic opportunity for students sounds attractive but in reality it manifests into an age-old practice that perpetuates a racial divide between children before they ever even learn their ABCs. Currently, these initiatives show no sign of slowing and in many cases are on the upswing. Now more than ever, our scarce public resources should be used to invest in public schools that operate under an obligation to serve any and all students.



About Southern Education Foundation
The Southern Education Foundation (SEF), founded in 1867, is an Atlanta-based research institution and policy advocate whose mission is to advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South, particularly low-income students and students of color. SEF uses collaboration, advocacy, and research to improve outcomes from early childhood to adulthood. Our core belief is that education is the vehicle by which all students get fair chances to develop their talents and contribute to the common good. SEF has published a host of impactful reports including “A New Majority” & “Performance Funding at MSIs” as featured in The Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed, respectively. For more information, visit

For the full report visit