From Segregation Academies to School Choice: The Post-Brown History of School Privatization

Blair, Monica, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History, University of Virginia

“From Segregation Academies to School Choice: The Post Brown History of School Privatization" analyzes the role of race, region, and politics in modern movement to provide public funding for private education in the US. This dissertation argues that privatization advocates have worked to break down the boundaries between public and private schooling in the sixty-five years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and that this blurring has exacerbated racial and socioeconomic inequalities in American education writ large. Beginning in the 1950s, a coalition of mostly white parents, conservative think tanks, politicians, and corporations united to shift millions of dollars' worth of funding away from public education to a scattershot landscape of unregulated parochial, private, and charter schools.

"From Segregation Academies to School Choice: The Post-Brown History of School Privatization" contributes to scholarship on education, politics, and racial inequality. While there is a vast literature on public school segregation, the historiography of racial inequality in private schools is severely underdeveloped. This poses a fundamental problem for all educational scholars, because public and private school enrollment is fundamentally linked. This dissertation argues that white flight to private schools continues to be a core pillar of school segregation in America, and that federal and state governments have helped fund this process of white flight since the 1950s. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, privatization did not stay confined to southern states like Virginia. This dissertation charts how public funding for private education gained popularity in northern states like Michigan when school desegregation moved North in the late 1960s and 1970s.

This dissertation also contributes to political history by showing how school privatization became an important issue in the modern Republican Party because school vouchers, tax credits, and grants were an important issue where libertarians, the religious right, and segregationists could find common ground. However, privatization wasn't confined to the Republican Party. Democratic politicians from the South were the first group to push for private school vouchers in the wake of Brown, and northern Democrats viewed school vouchers as a way to win the white Catholic vote. Furthermore, while many Democrats did not support private vouchers by the 1980s, the New Democrats of the 1990s were willing to break down the barrier between public and private education in another direction by promoting privately-run charter schools. Both political parties thus worked to break down the monetary divide between public and private education while upholding private schools' position outside of the regulatory state that was created to implement school desegregation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
private schools, segregation academies, school reform, history of education, US history, US political history
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