Kansas City's Chief Problem.

Citing declining enrollment and money issues, the Kansas City School Board plans to close 29 of its 61 schools. Kansas City's educational system has long been in decline, due to the hollowing out of the the city's urban core and the resulting re-segregation of area schools. Many scholars have cited Kansas City as a prime example of post-WWII white flight to the suburbs. Some blame Brown v. Board of Education for helping to spur it.

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As the table shows, the city's white population has remained relatively stable, but this masks the overall population increase in the metro area -- and as author Joshua Dunn notes, younger, middle-class whites fled to the suburbs while the remaining white population aged. With fewer school-age white children in Kansas City, enrollment dropped and racial composition changed dramatically. In 1959, 6.6 percent of Paseo High School students were African American. Twenty years later, that number jumped to 97.8 percent.

Supporters of "vouchers" and charter schools should take heed. The district's long-standing policy of allowing students to transfer from one school to another so long as there's space only undermined desegregation efforts and helped spur flight to the suburbs. In Kansas City, as across the country, the "competition" and mobility touted by conservatives has meant re-segregation, declining enrollment and funds, and ultimately, job losses and school closures in the middle of a recession.

--Gabriel Arana

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