This is the sixth in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Bee Nguyen, founder of Athena’s Warehouse, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #6, on the issue of “a competitive and sustainable regional economy.”
Earlier this month, Atlanta celebrated HUD’s 50th anniversary by championing the city’s successful initiative to demolish its troubled public housing projects and replace them with mixed-income developments. The last public housing residents in the city moved out of the projects in 2009; they received vouchers that they could use to apply for housing in the new developments or elsewhere.
The decision to break up the city’s concentrated areas of poverty was intended to help improve the economic opportunities available to former public housing residents, chiefly by providing access to quality education. In the Atlanta region, housing policy and education policy are closely intertwined.
The economic opportunities for Atlanta’s poor families haven’t materialized. Despite successes in new mixed-income communities like DeKalb County’s East Lake Meadows, a former public housing project that at one time was referred to as “Little Vietnam,” metro Atlanta still ranks as the worst in the nation in terms of economic mobility. This means it is especially difficult for a low-income child to navigate through schools and jobs to become a middle-class or wealthier adult. This lack of opportunity is reflected in the region’s highly segregated public education system, where underperforming schools are isolated in neighborhoods plagued by chronic poverty.
The children trapped in failing schools in low-income neighborhoods are in crisis. In metro Atlanta, race is a factor when it comes to quality education, healthy food and reliable transportation. Affordable housing, patterns of white flight, zoning, housing policies and redistricting have restricted the ability poor black families to live in neighborhoods with high-quality schools, leaving them entangled in a vicious cycle of poverty.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 report, Changing the Odds:The Race for Results in Atlanta, included maps that exposed the ugly reality that where we live matters when it comes to quality public education in metro Atlanta. The economic segregation in metro Atlanta is easy to see in these maps, with a clear demarcation between wealthy white neighborhoods and poor black neighborhoods. Black high school graduation rates are nearly 27 percent lower than white high school graduations rates within the Atlanta Public School System.
Studies show that education is key to the upward mobility of children. In metro Atlanta, a child raised in poverty has only a four percent chance of making it to the top of the income ladder. What can we do to change the story for poor children in metro Atlanta?
ARC’s Millennial Action Team #6 believes that we must:
- Begin a conversation about race, inequality, segregation and success in metro Atlanta.
- Explore creative ways to reintegrate our neighborhoods and schools and create an education system that reflects the diversity of the region’s broader community.
- Bring opportunity to high-poverty neighborhoods and schools and create policies that promote economic mobility for everyone.
Our obligation to educate the children of this region should not stop at the border of our school zone, school district or any other political boundary. But the reality today is that our region’s successful public schools are more congruous with private clubs than with engines of social and economic mobility. The price of entry is attached to where students live.
Studies have shown that when low-performing students attend the same schools as their affluent peers, they gain access to better qualified teachers, richer resources and more personal support. We all know that access to quality public education should not be determined by a child’s neighborhood, race or income. It’s time to change this reality and provide opportunities for all children in metro Atlanta to succeed.
Watch Action Team 6 make their pitch for quality public schools for all students in the Atlanta region.
Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.
Bee Nguyen, Ernest Brown, Greg Clay, Ogechi Oparah and Lindsay Anderson Soares represent Millennial Action Team #6.