The Supreme Court has decided to revisit the issue of race-based admissions, this time in K-12 schools. In 2003, in a pair of cases involving the University of Michigan, the Court handed down decisions that pleased neither side in the debate. On the one hand, the Court sided with affirmative action proponents by allowing schools to use race as a "plus factor" in deciding whom to admit. But the Court also said efforts to achieve racial "diversity" had to be narrowly tailored and could not utilize rigid point systems like the one adopted by Michigan for undergraduate admissions.
One thing was clear at the time -- the Michigan cases would not be the final word on the subject. So, once again, the Court is faced with having to decide whether a little bit of racial discrimination is OK, so long as it's employed in the service of achieving "diversity."
The new cases, which will be argued in December, involve school systems in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. Of the two, Seattle is the more interesting. Unlike Louisville, Seattle has no history of operating a racially segregated school system, which has usually been the basis for court-ordered programs to achieve racial balance. And, Seattle has substantial Asian and Hispanic populations in addition to blacks and whites.
Nonetheless, the city school board decided to list "diversity" as an educational goal. The board adopted an open admissions policy that allowed students to attend any high school of their choosing -- so long as the school's racial balance was within 15 percent of the city's overall racial composition: 60 percent minority and 40 percent white.
But some schools will always be more popular than others. In schools where the demand exceeds the available slots, the school board decided that preference would be given first to siblings of students already attending the school, and second to students whose race would tip the school's balance toward achieving the 60/40, minority/white ratio. A group of white parents sued the school system when their children were denied admission to Ballard High School, one of the city's best and most popular schools.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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