Any community that writes off its black, Hispanic and low-income students sabotages its own future.
That was the message delivered by UNC-Chapel Hill demographics expert James Johnson at a Tuesday forum on demographic trends that affect student assignment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
He said the browning and graying of America – and of Mecklenburg County – can create a situation that undermines global competitiveness. He recommended that school officials push that theme of “competitive collaboration” as they try to rally support for changes that ensure minority and low-income kids get strong schools.
“Browning” refers to population growth fueled largely by Asian and Latin American immigration, coupled with a nonwhite population that is younger and having more children than whites. “Graying” refers to the fact that aging boomers and longer lifespans create a growing population that may not have a direct stake in public schools.
“We know where the next generation of children are going to come from,” he said. “This is a competitiveness issue. This generation of kids, we’ve got to protect, we’ve got to prepare.”
224,174 Mecklenburg population growth from 2000-2010
82% were nonwhite
30% were Hispanic
The forum drew dozens of CMS employees and community members, but very few of the county, city and town officials the school board had invited in hopes of launching a wider support group. Charlotte City Council member Vi Lyles, the only non-CMS official who attended the whole presentation, said the two-hour afternoon forum at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church apparently collided with campaign events, including city debates being taped at WTVI all day.
County commissioner Dumont Clarke, one of a handful of elected officials who arrived late, added that county commissioners had a long-scheduled afternoon meeting at the same time.
Johnson showed a series of slides on local and national population trends, coupled with pithy one-liners to bring home his message. He said white, older and affluent people are often living in different neighborhoods than the children who make up a growing part of Mecklenburg’s population and future workforce. That can create a “triple whammy” for public education, said Johnson, who runs a charter school in Durham.
“We’ve got to get aging empty nesters to understand that they have a dog in the K-12 education fight,” he said. Meanwhile, young people need to grasp that “you’re not competing with Cabarrus County and Wake County. You’re competing with kids halfway around the world who will clean your clock.”
He emphasized the importance of uniting government, business and nonprofit leaders behind the quest to improve education for all children.
School board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked for examples of communities that are doing that successfully, but Johnson had nothing to offer. “There are lots of communities that are struggling pretty hard,” he said.
Superintendent Ann Clark urged everyone who attended to spread the word and stay engaged with the board’s ongoing student assignment review.
“This is our moment as a community to take charge of this conversation,” Clark said. “It’s going to take that competitive collaboration.”