Friday, January 20, 2006

"Liberal" New York, Redux

Race split in schools gets Klein attention


Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said yesterday New York's public schools are more segregated than those in other parts of the country because they mirror the racial divide in the city's neighborhoods.
"Throughout the country, there are patterns of racial segregation," Klein said between Martin Luther King Day events.

"My solution is for every kid, wherever he or she is, whatever race, whatever background, to make sure they get a good quality education.

"One of the things I think is really important is that our schools are improving for all kids."

Klein's comments followed a recent study by Harvard University's Civil Rights Project that found more black and Latino children in segregated schools in New York than in any other state except California.

Study author Gary Orfield said the problem is more severe in New York City than statewide.

"New York has always been extremely segregated," Orfield said.

"It's been sort of written off. People say they can't do anything about it so they don't really try."

Orfield suggested New York's school choice programs - which allow students to attend schools outside their neighborhood - be used as a vehicle for integration.

"They should be actively trying to create integrated schools, drawing in new residents and keeping the old ones," he said.

Time for pols to have a plan

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. must be spinning in his grave. While local celebrations of the civil rights leader's birthday went off smoothly this week, there was barely a peep mentioned about New York's status as home to some of America's most racially segregated cities, counties and school systems.
As my Daily News colleague Erin Einhorn reported, a Harvard study found that New York has more black and Latino kids in segregated public schools than any other state except California.

Our racially divided schools mirror New York's deeply segregated neighborhoods.

The problem was on display at the Rev. Al Sharpton's annual King Day celebration in Harlem. While Sen. Hillary Clinton's remarks comparing Congress with a plantation made national news, a far more important matter - largely ignored by the press - was raised by Bertha Lewis of the activist group ACORN.

As Lewis pointedly reminded listeners, Nassau County remains one of the most segregated communities in America. ACORN is suing the county government and the village of Garden City in federal court over longstanding policies that keep Garden City overwhelmingly white and neighboring Hempstead mostly black.

According to the ACORN lawsuit and a major study by a Long Island civil rights organization called Erase Racism, Nassau officials have maintained a policy over decades of systematically steering subsidized housing to a small number of minority communities.

Lewis' comments put Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi on the spot. Suozzi supports a plan to transfer 25 acres of underused county land to Garden City for development - a plan being criticized by ACORN because it does not include subsidies or zoning amendments to make sure housing built there will be affordable to working-class or poor people.

Suozzi, who says the Garden City location is "not an appropriate place for an affordable housing project," says the county can raise more money by getting top dollar for the land and using the funds to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere in Nassau. That's the same logic that has kept Nassau segregated for generations.

Suozzi, who is likely running for governor against Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, should push housing policies that would end the segregation. (Full disclosure: My wife is an aide to Spitzer, but my opposition to segregation predates her employment.)

Both Suozzi and Spitzer, and everyone else running for office, must answer to the public for what they plan to do to help desegregate New York.

According to the Census Bureau, New York ranked as America's third-most segregated metropolitan area in 2000, after Detroit and Milwaukee.

Far too many people approach New York's frayed race relations with a combination of exhaustion, indifference and cynical apathy. "New York has always been extremely segregated," is how Gary Orfield, author of the Harvard study, put it. "It's been sort of written off. People say they can't do anything about it so they don't really try."

New York's political class, including the media, bears a heavy burden of responsibility for this state of affairs. Rare is the politician brave enough to acknowledge frankly that our communities are divided by race, and that this segregation runs counter to the vision of a united country that most of us want to see.

Rarer still is the pol willing to ask New Yorkers to do what King asked of America: Pay some dues and take some chances to heal the racial rift.

When we do so, it will be the most fitting of all tributes to Martin Luther King Jr.
Bet YOU never imagined New York STATE, much less New York City, was more segregated than 48 other states...

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