It’s a different story in township schools. Like Perry Township, many of Marion County’s smaller districts have grown more diverse as more families, especially white families, have moved to surrounding districts. In general, there are far fewer mostly white schools now than in 1992, the oldest state data available. Then, 69 percent of elementary schools were segregated and mostly white. In 2015, just 10 percent of schools were segregated.
But where segregation remains, it has become more entrenched.
As in urban districts across the country, so few white students live in the geographic area served by Indianapolis Public Schools that it’s not even clear that busing today would have much of an impact — at least not if it was only restricted to Marion County. Only a busing program that involved surrounding counties like Hamilton and Johnson, which are mostly white, could achieve diversity today, but busing programs that cross city borders have been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The most important thing districts can do is make both racial and economic integration a priority, Orfield said. He pointed to efforts in Louisville, Kentucky, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Connecticut as examples of progress. If schools want to to promote integration, first they need to make it part of their mission and set specific goals.
For example, they could make plans to recruit diverse students to segregated schools, or offer preference to kids who speak other languages or come from certain neighborhoods. They can also redraw boundary lines, change school locations and assist families with transportation.
But fewer school district leaders are thinking about these strategies today. In Indianapolis, there are concerns about test scores, school safety and funding, but school board members rarely address segregation head-on. “It’s not rocket science,” Orfield said. “You have to decide to do it. If you don’t decide to do it the default is segregation.”
In the Forest Manor area, now that busing is gone, nearby school options have dwindled for LaShawn’s younger neighbors.
Some Indianapolis Public Schools schools have closed in the decades since busing, while charter schools on the city’s east side have spread. Current options include a few low-performing Indianapolis Public Schools schools and several charter schools that have higher test scores but still remain unpopular among some area residents. It’s another factor they fear will further exacerbate the area’s decline.
For LaTonya, now that LaShawn has graduated, there’s not much keeping her in Forest Manor either. She, too, expects she’ll soon join the exodus from the east side that has already irreparably changed the streets she remembers from her youth.
Driving through the neighborhood on an afternoon this winter, Kirkland pointed to once-vibrant family homes that are now boarded-up rental properties. Not a block went by where Kirkland couldn’t name an aunt who lived there, a friend she remembers visiting, or the church where she grew up. But today, her drive takes her by shuttered storefronts and once-bustling sidewalks that now see only occasional passers-by.