Incentive-Based Integration Programs: An Alternative Approach to Equity Realization in Education?

Incentive-Based Integration Programs


Incentive-Based Integration Programs: An Alternative Approach to Equity Realization in Education?

Incentive-Based Integration Programs

Incentive-Based Integration Programs: An Alternative Approach to Equity Realization in Education?

Nathaniel D. Stewart


A combination of poorly designed desegregation plans, a divided political climate, discriminatory housing practices, the Supreme Court’s rulings on de facto segregation, student school assignment policies, a cultural divide, as well as many other factors have contributed to the current status of racial/ethnic segregation in the U.S. public education system. The U.S. school system is experiencing an educational crisis rooted in inequity. School resegregation is the phenomenon of permissible de facto segregation among various racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. education system (Reardon et al. 2012).

When it comes to student populations in public schools, researchers have estimated that 40 percent of U.S. public schools have a racial imbalance meaning the schools are predominantly one racial/ethnic group (Wagner 2017). White students are the most isolated racial group in the United States, and Black and Latinx students have low-contact with white students in various regions of the country (Orfield & Frankenberg 2014). Additionally, the number of “intensely segregated nonwhite schools (defined as those schools with only 0-10% white students) [has] more than tripled [since 1988], rising from 5.7% to 18.6%” (Orfield et al 2016).


Stewart - Racial Composition.jpg

These statistics highlight the magnitude of racial segregation and the need for policy solutions. Through theoretical exploration, using works from Amy Gutmann and Deborah Stone, this policy-analysis explains why school resegregation is a policy problem and explores whether an incentive-based integration program addresses uncertainty by meeting the democratic aim of equity.

Today, there is a high level of uncertainty surrounding school integration policies. Historically, integration has been unsuccessful in meeting its goals of equalizing opportunity for communities of color (Orfield et al 2016). In order to give an example of this lack of effectiveness, we will turn to the Black community in Columbus, Ohio. This particular story is relevant because it exemplifies Black communities’ common realization that, because of white-dominated implementation plans, integration may not be enough to engender educational equity. Prior to federal court-ordered integration in 1954, Champion High School, located in Columbus, Ohio, was a flourishing educational institution (Jacobs 1998). However, after mandated integration, Champion was forced to dissolve their well-educated and all-Black teaching staff (Jacobs 1998, 18). Although the purpose of integration was to equalize opportunity, the result was a diffusion of Black teachers across Columbus. African-American activists were instrumental in advocating for racial integration but were excluded from the conversations surrounding the design of these efforts (Jacobs 1998, 16). The issue that undergirds historically marginalized groups’ uncertainty surrounding school integration policies stems from their historical exclusion from participating in the design stages.

Regarding white communities’ uncertainty surrounding integration, research has shown a decrease in the likelihood of white parents to enroll their children in schools with higher numbers of Black students. In one study, the researchers found that racial composition is an important factor for white parents who would choose a school for their children (Billingham & Hunt 2016). This brings up questions of how prejudice contributes to anti-integration ideology (discussed below). These issues of uncertainty will have to be addressed by any solutions seeking to ameliorate school resegregation.

Democratic Framework and Social Cohesion Assumption

I decided to use a democratic framework when evaluating incentive-based integration programs because of the inclusive potential of a democratic system. Amy Gutmann (1999) described a democratic education as a system that effectively prepares all students to be civically engaged. With this purpose in mind, she also asserted that democratic systems should not discriminate against or repress citizen voice. With these pillars as guides, democratic education has the potential to secure marginalized groups’ participation in policymaking.  A major assumption in this policy analysis is that an integrated education, rooted in democratic values, leads to social cohesion.

Mickelson and Nkomo explained, “integrated education is an important building block that cultivates the social, structural, and attitudinal predicates of cohesive, just, multiethnic, democratic societies, [and this] rests on a long philosophical tradition linking democracy to integrated schooling” (Mickelson & Nkomo 2012). They defined social cohesion as the related phenomenon that causes individuals from different perspectives to build consensus—a crucial component of democracy. In other words, individuals who work or learn in multiethnic/racial environments will yield outcomes such as: quality intergroup relations, cross-racial friendships, the challenging of racial stereotypes and fears, and intercultural understanding (Mickelson & Nkomo 2012). It is this type of citizenship that leads individuals to challenge systems that exclude marginalized groups from policymaking.

Throughout this analysis I will mention that integrated educational settings are the ideal models to produce the type of citizenship necessary to establish an inclusive policymaking process. I argue that without this type of citizenship, integration policies have the potential to have adverse effects. There are two main ideas within this analysis: (1) Integration produces the ideal type of democratic citizenship, and (2) this type of citizenship is necessary to create a society that allows marginalized groups and allies to hold the power to engender educational equity. Using the social cohesion assumption as a guide, I will explore the literature surrounding these main ideas.

The Courts and Race-Neutral Policies

Prior to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the milestone Supreme Court case overruling the “separate but equal doctrine,” school districts could legally bar Black and white people from being educated together (347 U.S. 294). Chief Justice Warren, writing the opinion of the Court, stated the question that consolidated the Brown cases: “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?” In answering this question, Warren asserted that the existence of segregated schools led to the perpetuation of systems that have negative effects on Black children. Furthermore, segregated public schools foster a sense of inferiority in children of color, negatively impacting their motivation. According to democratic theorist Robert Dahl’s criteria for a democratic process, all people must be included as full citizens, and they must be able to effectively voice their opinions (Dahl 1998). In the Brown case, the court determined both democratic criteria were unsatisfied due to a segregated school system that disadvantaged students of color by supplying them with a low-quality education. School segregation’s return (resegregation) is related to the Brown decision but has evolved.

Stewart - School Segregation.png

To understand modern school resegregation, scholars, policymakers, and practitioners must understand how whiteness plays a role in educational policy via the federal U.S. court system. Whiteness is “a consortium of everyday strategies characterized as an unwillingness to recognize institutional racism, an avoidance of identifying with a racial experience or that of a group, and the minimization of legacies of racism” (Tran 2016). Whiteness ideologies produce race-neutral policies. Race-neutral policies are laws that are unintentionally discriminatory towards individuals of color (Tran 2016). When individuals fail to recognize institutional racism, the policies they create and the decisions they make have the potential to be discriminatory. For example, whiteness was the ideology used in Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell (1991). In Dowell, the Supreme Court held that school districts, which had been ordered to integrate, could end forced busing in favor of neighborhood school assignments (O’Brien 2014). These were the same Oklahoma neighborhoods which had stringent public school segregation prior to desegregation initiatives (O’Brien 2014). This decision justified de facto segregation (unintentional segregation). Justice Thurgood Marshal, the lead attorney in the Brown case, wrote a passionate dissenting opinion.

Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907. For the next 65 years, the Oklahoma School Board maintained segregated schools—initially relying on laws requiring dual school systems; thereafter, by exploiting residential segregation that had been created by legally enforced restrictive covenants. In 1972—18 years after this Court first found segregated schools to be unconstitutional—a federal court finally interrupted this cycle, enjoining the Oklahoma City School Board to implement a specific plan for achieving actual desegregation of its schools. The practical question now before us is whether, 13 years after that injunction was imposed, the same school board should have been allowed to return many of its schools to their former one-race status (O’Brien 2014).

The majority of the Court ruled the “vestiges,” or traces, of discrimination from legal public school segregation had been eliminated. Justice Marshall’s dissent confirmed Oklahoma’s, as well as the Supreme Court’s, lackluster dedication to integration, and the support of race-neutral policies that paved the way for de facto segregation.

This is just one example of many Supreme Court cases that supported race-neutral policies and as a result became barriers to the realization of an integrated public school system. Others included: Freeman v. Pitts (1992) which diminished court control of desegregation efforts and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) which made it unconstitutional to use race-based policies to promote integration. Both of these cases used whiteness to decrease the influence of the courts in enforcing racial integration. The lack of meaningful commitment to racial desegregation post-Brown, rooted in whiteness ideology, is deeply connected to the modern resegregation of schools (Orfield 2001). Policymakers, who diminished the significance of racial inequity, caused the U.S. education system to trend towards a segregated student body. These ideologies undergird the crisis harming American students who find themselves in racially isolated environments.

Other Factors Contributing to Resegregation

Although Court decisions are the most salient factor contributing to school resegregation, there are additional factors that must be discussed. These factors include: white communities’ unwillingness to live in communities with high populations of people of color and their unwillingness to send their children to schools with high populations of children of color. The reason I focus on white families is because there is evidence that shows white families are unwilling to live and be educated in heterogenous settings (Billingham & Hunt 2016). For example, the rise of the school-choice movement and charter schools has been used by families to exit public schools with high percentages of Black students (Evans & Renzulli 2005). Moreover, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the school choice movement was correlated with an increase in racial stratification between white and Black students (Stein 2015). In the study mentioned above, which concluded that race is an important factor for white-parent school selection, the researchers also concluded that the avoidance of Black schools is due to anti-Black ideology (Billingham & Hunt 2016). Anti-Black ideology stems from prejudice and contributes to resegregation because of the ability for white communities to choose to avoid schools with high percentages of students of color.

The Problem with Resegregation

The harms of public school segregation are related to the type of citizen being produced by stratified systems of education. In Democratic Education, Gutmann described a deliberative citizen as an individual who champions productive discourse through virtues such as “veracity, nonviolence, integrity, and generosity” (Gutmann 1999). On the contrary, segregated learning environments produce the antithesis of a deliberative citizen—a subconscious citizen. For purposes of this policy-analysis, a subconscious citizen is defined as an individual who has had little contact with individuals from diverse cultures, different worldviews, or different racial/ethnic identities; these circumstances lead them to prejudiced ideologies. Prejudice is defined as hostile attitudes towards members outside of one’s ethnic or racial identity. It is segregation’s production of subconscious citizens that exemplifies the policy problem of resegregation.

The United States is becoming increasingly diverse; meaning nonwhite populations are increasing in the share of the total population. Simultaneously, white, Black, Asian, and Latinx students are being isolated in homogenous school environments (Orfield & Frankenberg 2014). There has been empirical research conducted suggesting that contact with individuals from different backgrounds decreases bias/prejudice (Dovidio, Love, & Hewstone 2017). However, does learning in a homogeneous environment increase the chances of developing prejudice ideologies?

"The United States is becoming increasingly diverse; meaning nonwhite populations are increasing in the share of the total population. Simultaneously, white, Black, Asian, and Latinx students are being isolated in homogenous school environments."

Researchers have concluded that white people who do not have meaningful interactions with Black people on a daily basis cannot fully understand the diverse character of Black Americans (Kinder & Mendelberg 1995). When making important decisions impacting populations of Black people, these individuals only have stereotypes as a reference. In order to connect racial isolation and prejudice, researchers randomly administered a survey (n=1,150 white people) which measured prejudice in various policy domains such as: racial intermarriage, fair housing, school busing, and the death penalty (Kinder & Mendelberg 1995). Their results showed there was an inverse correlation between living near/interacting with Black people and prejudiced responses. Particularly for the component measuring racial intermarriage, the results were robust. “While the impact of prejudice on opposition to marriage between Blacks and whites is strong among those whites living in isolation from Blacks, it disappears entirely among those whites living in close proximity to Black people” (Kinder & Mendelberg 1995).  Subconscious citizens do not have their unconscious biases, prejudices, or stereotypes challenged on a daily basis by people who are racially/ethnically different from them. The results of this study affirm the social cohesion assumption—inter-group contact produces individuals who are less bias/prejudice. The development of prejudice in homogenous learning environments holds major ramifications for educational policy.

 In order to have a flourishing democracy, all voices must be able to influence policy (Gutmann 1998). Segregated educational settings undermine this criterion and infringe on equity (explained in the next section). Subconscious citizens enter the workforce unable to interact with groups of people from diverse backgrounds, and if they are in positions of power, they may discriminate against individuals from different racial backgrounds—disenfranchising their voice (Kinder & Mendelberg 1995). Moreover, they end up fostering prejudice that may lead them to believe individuals of color are less capable than their white colleagues. As professionals, subconscious citizens could become policymakers or teachers who have low expectations for students of color. These low expectations have negative impacts on achievement and could lead to inequitable policies (Ferguson 2014).

Finally, the literature shows that segregation parallels disparities in access to educational resources between white and nonwhite students (Reardon & Owens 2014). In communities of color, adequate resources can lead to a decline in high-school dropout rates, a reduction in racial attainment disparities, improved opportunities for Black males, a decrease in incarceration rates, a positive impact on math and reading scores, and an increase in parental involvement (Reardon & Owens 2014; Johnson 2011). With all of these benefits for communities of color, why have policymakers failed to prioritize integration efforts? Subconscious citizens, using whiteness to guide policy solutions and excluding communities of color from the conversation, have fostered the uncertainty leading to a low prioritization of integration. If the U.S. does not prioritize finding solutions to resegregation trends by addressing these tensions, the nation will continue to perpetuate inequity.

What is Equity?

Equity is defined as the elimination of prejudice through the creation of deliberative citizens who champion the democratic pillars of non-repression, and nondiscrimination (Gutmann 1999). These two pillars allow for different viewpoints to be heard while demanding that marginalized groups have an increased amount of voice in shaping the structure of society. Although this does not guarantee change, it allows for all groups of people to advocate for their ideas of a good life (Gutmann 1999). A deliberative citizen acknowledges there are systems in place that inherently disadvantage people of color, and they work to eliminate these disadvantages. Because of these citizens’ dedication to the virtues of veracity, nonviolence, integrity, and generosity, these citizens work to fix the savage inequalities plaguing society (Gutmann 1999). Equity is realized through deliberative citizens’ ability to build consensus with all cultures, creeds, races, and ethnicities (Frankenberg, Garces, & Hopkins 2016). The creation of these individuals results in reductions in prejudice and discrimination.

Criteria for Evaluation

Given the definition of equity, this democratic aim will be met when systems of education increase the number of deliberative citizens while decreasing the number of subconscious citizens. This must be done via purposeful policy-making. Mandatory policies, such as the forced busing of students, have been ineffective in school desegregation efforts because of the increased uncertainty amongst stakeholders (Adams, Coons & Sugarman 1977). Thus, any alternative must involve all stakeholders—parents, teachers, researchers, administrators, community members, and local nonprofits. Finally, a policy alternative must improve educational outcomes for low-income communities of color. Low-income communities of color are disproportionately disadvantaged by the vestiges of discrimination mentioned in the literature review; therefore, incentive-based integration programs must work to improve historically marginalized groups’ outcomes. If it does not, the program will fall short of the democratic aim of equity. In the following sections, I will use these criteria to evaluate an example of the most recent federal incentive-based integration program.

An incentive-based integration program seeks to entice educational entities to submit proposals, created through local-level deliberation, detailing how they will increase integrated learning opportunities by offering a predetermined sum of money. An educational entity has achieved the goal of integration when “students, staff, curricula, extracurricular and cocurricular activities, and the school culture reflect the demographic balance of the students [in the community]” (Mickelson & Nkomo 2012). A critic would say that this ostracizes communities that are racially and geographically isolated. This is an important weakness to note; however, it does not undermine these types of programs. Under incentive-based integration programs, all communities have equal access to the grant application. Rural, white, and isolated regions of the country would be rewarded for being innovative in their ways to champion integration policies. Another concern brought up by this definition of integration is the fact that there are racially or semi-socially isolated schools that seek to improve the educational outcomes of specific students. These institutions include: Afrocentric schools, schools serving students with emotional or physical trauma, ELL schools, and special education focused schools. It is important to note that the policy problem is not associated with these institutions. The policy problem is present when the stratification of student populations leads to questions about the equitable distribution of educational opportunity (Kiel 2016).

The Stronger Together School Diversity Act

The Stronger Together School Diversity Act (STSDA) was attached to President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for the 2017 calendar year. It sought to establish a competitive grant to support programs focused on increasing the amount of integrated learning opportunities for students. Imbedded in the language of the act is flexibility in how school districts, educational service organizations, or regional education authorities should prioritize race or socioeconomic status in their plans. The language of the policy has three components:

1) Authorizes $120 million to provide planning and implementation grants to support voluntary, and collaborative local efforts to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools.

2) Supports school districts, independently or in collaboration with neighboring districts, as well as regional educational authorities and educational service agencies.

3) Grants could fund a range of proposals, including (but not limited to): Studying segregation, evaluating current policies, and developing evidence-based plans to address socioeconomic and racial isolation; Establishing public school choice zones, revising school boundaries, or expanding bussing service; Creating or expanding innovative school programs that can attract students from outside the local area; Recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers to support specialized schools (U.S. Department of Education 2016).

In evaluating the impact of this policy, I turn to Stone’s analysis of incentives as a solution for policy problems. Stone explains that to evaluate an incentive-based program, a researcher should look at the following three parts: “the incentive giver, the incentive receiver, and the incentive itself” (Stone 2012). I formulated this three-part evaluation into three essential questions to evaluate the effectiveness of STSDA in meeting equity.

First, will communities/districts who are not interested in integration change their minds because of the incentive being offered? Opinion polls, within the last 10 years, show that Americans support diverse schools; however, they oppose efforts to integrate schools that involve travel (Frankenberg & Jacobsen, 2011). Furthermore, a majority of the public believes there are educational and societal benefits to school integration (Frankenberg & Jacobsen 2011). However, these surveys do not account for how people will behave when given the choice to send their children to a more diverse school. For instance, in 2007, Minnesota’s Department of Education (MDE) implemented a choice-based integration program, meaning parents were given the option to send their students to diverse schools. Although the community declared that they were in support of integration, they did not choose to send their children to diverse schools (Hobday, Finn, & Orfield 2009). This shows how there are some disconnects between opinions and behavior when exploring school integration.

Even with this disparity between thought and behavior, if all voices are included in the creation, then a community would be able to create a plan that is more enticing—especially if the community is able to brainstorm alternatives outside of transportation. In this case, local collaborative efforts are the best way to encourage community members to integrate schools (McLaughlin 1990). Within the language of the STSDA, it allows for all stakeholders to be involved in the grant proposal process. There are major ramifications for this type of program. If an individual supports integration but is worried about altering their status quo, they will be able to have a voice in the deliberative process. As for the educational entities who may not be interested in school integration, the fact of missing out on benefits may be enough to persuade them (Stone 2012).

This policy-analysis is rooted in democratic theory where deliberation is key. Without first securing an increase in deliberative citizens, an incentive-based integration may have no effect. However, there are examples of deliberation working with communities who have decided to prioritize integration and address inequity.  Although the Minnesota program failed to create an integrated student body, the process they used was deliberative. The State Board of Education held public meetings and round table discussions to come up with a collection of drafts for desegregation rules (Hobday, Finn, & Orfield 2009). The downfall of this proposal was the lack of support from the State. The democratic process worked to produce a plan that involved all stakeholders. However, the Governor of Minnesota was able to veto the plan, and ultimately dissolve the State Board of Education. This example shows how a deliberative process may work, but if the system lacks deliberative citizens in positions of power, then these policies are less likely to be implemented.  

Stone argues incentives themselves must be substantial enough, and the rewards for participating must be clear to encourage educational entities and people in power to submit proposals (Stone 2012). Interest convergence is the idea that policies enacted to improve the quality of education for people of color do not gain attention unless they also benefit white people (Dumas & Anyon 2006). When the benefit to white people is non-existent or unclear, opposition to the policy grows. The grant being offered must be able to overcome this reality. When looking specifically at incentive-based integration programs, proponents would need to articulate how integration would also benefit white students. One strategy would be to make the incentive large enough to encourage these districts to participate. More funding for districts means more resources for all students within its domain.

Secondly, would the incentive-based integration program reach the students who need the support? An important assumption made by the STSDA policy-framers was that integrating student populations by socioeconomic status may be less politically divisive; therefore, STSDA would be more likely to be implemented (Kahlenberg 2016). This gives educational entities the flexibility to racially integrate under the guise of socioeconomic integration. This is a great strategy to avoid court battles because the Supreme Court has ruled against race-based integration strategies. However, focusing solely on socioeconomic status may not lead to racial integration.

When analyzing whether prejudice or perceptions of socioeconomic status leads to residential segregation of white Americans, researchers found that perceptions of socioeconomic status had no effect (Bobo & Zubrinsky 1996). The results suggest that white people are willing to live next to individuals who are poor but are generally unwilling to live next to people of color.  If school integration policies were solely based on socioeconomic status, individuals who oppose racial integration will be able to use socioeconomic status integration as a means to receive the grant money without meeting the democratic goal of equity. Stone adds, “Targets of incentives can ‘game the system’ by trying to reap a reward without changing their behavior” (Stone 2012). Socioeconomic status integration is important; however, it alone does not require an increase in the amount of racial inter-group contact. For example, affluent, white districts could recruit low-income white students from predominately student of color districts. This would result in an adverse effect—further segregating white and nonwhite student populations.

Thirdly, would this incentive-based integration program produce a meaningful number of deliberative citizens? Stone notes, “when a social problem is rooted in institutional patterns and practices, or a long-standing historical pattern of social and political relationships, incentives applied by one small set of actors to another are unlikely to have significant impacts” (Stone 2012). There is no way of knowing the number of grant applications that would be received or accepted. Even if the 40 largest districts in the U.S. were granted funding, large portions of the country would not receive part of the $120 million grant. As previously mentioned, in order for incentive-based integration programs to work, deliberative citizens must be in positions of power. Without this crucial component, it is unclear if the STSDA would produce a meaning number of deliberative citizens.

Do Incentive-Based Programs Meet the Criteria?

The aforementioned evaluation criteria have three components; in order to meet equity policies must: (1) Involve all stakeholders, (2) increase the number of deliberative citizens, and (3) improve outcomes for historically marginalized groups. Beginning with the first part of the criteria, it is clear that incentive-based programs, like the Stronger Together School Diversity Act, give communities the autonomy to volunteer to participate in integration efforts. Through involving all stakeholders, a community would have the option of creating a plan to produce deliberative citizens through increasing the opportunities for students to learn in diverse settings. However, there is no guarantee communities will have the resources or the willingness to address some of the important factors contributing to school resegregation.

One of the major factors causing school resegregation is the behavior and prejudiced attitudes of subconscious citizens. There is nothing in this incentive-based program that ameliorates these attitudes. In order for this program to address prejudice, there would need to be a conscious social reproduction of deliberative citizens. Gutmann defines social reproduction as the conscious instilment of democratic virtues into younger generations (Gutmann 1999). Social reproduction creates a snowball effect—deliberative citizens educate more deliberative citizens.

This reality leads to a paradox relating to the two main points of this policy analysis— (1) Integration produces the ideal type of democratic citizenship and (2) this type of citizenship is necessary to create a society that allows marginalized groups and allies to hold the power to engender educational equity. The individuals who have the virtues to make society more inclusive, struggle to hold enough power to reach the goal of equity. What proponents of incentivized integration policies hope for, is that a critical mass of deliberative citizens will be created. This critical mass, engaging with and becoming policymakers, will then transform society into a cacophony of democratic virtues rooted in nondiscrimination, non-repression, and inclusion. Given the distribution of power in U.S. educational policy, incentive-based integration programs may fail to meet the third component of the criteria.

Integration policies must improve outcomes for low-income communities of color or historically marginalized groups. In the analysis above, it was asserted that positive outcomes for communities of color are not guaranteed because of the policy language describing socioeconomic status. Although this is the reality, the federal government has the potential to ensure low-income students of color are the major beneficiaries. For instance, in 2009, the Obama administration renewed the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program which guided states on how to improve their lowest performing schools through four models: turnaround, restart, transformation, or closure. This competitive grant program was similar to STSDA because it was an incentive-based program that used federal dollars to try and improve academic outcomes for communities of color. However, scholars argue that SIG disproportionately affected low-income students of color, and the evidence shows that the effects were destructive to their communities (Trujillo 2016). Students of color did not end up in better schools after the mass-closures, and teacher quality was not guaranteed to be better in the students’ new schools.

"Students of color did not end up in better schools after the mass-closures, and teacher quality was not guaranteed to be better in the students’ new schools."

In recent history, various federal programs have been designed to improve the quality of education for students of color; however, they ended up worsening various educational conditions. This is another example of a race-neutral policy. To avoid a repeat of history, Trujillo offers a profound suggestion for future competitive grant programs. She writes, “[Policymakers must] increase and equitably distribute federal education funding based on districts’ and schools’ demonstrated needs, including poverty levels and communities’ racial and economic segregation patterns” (Trujillo 2016). In order to meet the second part of the criteria, STSDA must obtain these crucial pieces of information and distribute funding accordingly. Without this collection of information, STSDA has the potential to further disadvantage communities of color.

STSDA’s Variability

The Stronger Together School Diversity Act has a high level of variability. The range of alternatives educational entities and their stakeholders could create is virtually limitless. According to the STSDA, one grant recipient might decide on a public school choice initiative, another may conduct research, and a third may decide that busing is the most effective way to increase integrated learning opportunities. This variability makes it difficult to assert a definite conclusion on the potential impact of this policy. Each plan needs to be subjected to an in-depth analysis. There is a collection of researchers who have tied school choice and charter school initiatives to increasing racial isolation levels (Evans & Renzulli 2015). If money were to disproportionately go to grant proposals that involve these initiatives, then racial segregation levels could increase. Even with the accountability measures as a buffer, policymakers and non-profits have made arguments that claim school choice initiatives actually promote equity. Plus, race-neutral policies—guided by whiteness ideology—pervade society. This is important to note because, these educational entities will have equal access to applying for the STSDA and, ultimately, being granted funding for their initiatives.

On the other hand, one of the options for a proposal, under the guidelines of STSDA, stated, “studying segregation, evaluating current policies, and developing evidence-based plans to address socioeconomic and racial isolation research” (U.S. Department of Education 2016). Kingdon writes that academics and researchers have a very important role in moving policy onto the agenda (Kingdon 1984). Policies moving onto the agenda is the precursor for policies being enacted and implemented. If educational policy researchers are able to secure grants to further add to the literature solidifying the positive outcomes for all students learning in integrated settings, then school districts would be more inclined to prioritize school integration. In this hypothetical situation, it would be the ability to produce empirical evidence, highlighting the importance of integrated school settings, that would lead to reform. When it comes to supporting educational research, there is great potential to start a movement towards social cohesion and democratic education.

Both of these examples are on opposite ends of the spectrum and yield results that are stark contrasts. The strength of an incentive-based integration program is that it allows for a more comprehensive approach. All communities may not be ready to integrate; there may be deeply held racial prejudices that have yet to be challenged. This does not mean that this problem should not be addressed, but historically, forced integration without deliberation has ended up as an ineffective intervention (Adams, Coons, & Sugarman 1977). Moreover, there may be proximity issues preventing communities from effectively integrating or families of color whom see the benefits of being in communities with a plethora of role models that understand the unique challenges of being a person of color in the United States. This program does not address community unwillingness to integrate, but it does support communities who have collectively established that integration is a priority. Although programs like STSDA may encourage innovation, local collaboration, and the unification of efforts to increase the number of deliberative citizens, the program needs further development in order to realize equity.

Conclusion: Is Equity Met?

There are limits to this theoretical exploration due to the focus on one federal incentive-based integration program. Without equivalent programs to do comparison analyses, Stone and Gutmann give policy researchers an excellent guide to theoretically explore the various components of incentive-based programs. Applying the theory of democratic education and the social cohesion assumption to this analysis gives insight into the viability of incentive-based programs to address school resegregation and produce deliberative citizens.

Producing deliberative citizens leads to the social reproduction of democratic values rooted in non-repression and nondiscrimination; incentive-based integration programs increase the financial resources directed at these initiatives. Financial support and mandatory deliberation between all stakeholders is not enough to address school resegregation. When it comes to the STSDA, it falls short of meeting the aim of equity because there is no guarantee that communities will be required to address the foundational problems associated with racial resegregation. Furthermore, some of the options embedded in the language of the program have demonstrated tendencies to worsen resegregation. 

Accountability measures that ensure positive outcomes for low-income communities of color are a crucial part of the evaluation criteria. If this competitive grant alters into another bolstering of affluent schools and the deprivation of communities of color, equity is not met. Allies of school integration can rest assured because this program was never enacted. This means that policymakers can make the modifications necessary to maximize educational equity. Policymakers should prioritize the design of accountability components that yield positive outcomes for historically marginalized groups. We must move past the idea of focusing integration policies on socioeconomic status, and excluding race, because this could worsen racial resegregation.

With intentional design to meet the criteria offered in this analysis, incentive-based programs could realize educational equity. The level to which equity is realized depends on the ability of deliberative policymakers, researchers, and citizens to convince subconscious citizens to prioritize integration efforts. Proponents of educational integration must continue to engage in the political system. Although STSDA was not enacted into law, there was enough public interest for the Obama administration and some members of Congress to include the STSDA in the 2017 budget proposal. This reality should encourage educational professionals who are proponents of integration.  

While more deliberative citizens are being produced, the uncertainty surrounding integration continues among all communities. Community members should continue to have difficult conversations around systemic inequity and the harms of segregated schools. Solutions are impossible without communication and democratic participation. Incentive-based integration programs provide a democratic platform where all stakeholders are able to collaboratively develop a plan to increase integrated learning opportunities. With a democratic design and the help of deliberative citizens, incentive-based integration programs have the potential to eliminate uncertainty and contribute to the construction of an equitable education system.

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