One of the most significant legal walls separating the City of Memphis from its suburbs is coming down. Without the suburbs’ permission, the city is dissolving its school district into that of its suburbs. In the face of fiscal stress and in the name of educational quality, Memphis City Schools has used dissolution law to consolidate with the surrounding county district. A central city district that is 85% black, 6.5% Hispanic, and beset by household poverty, will merge with a majority white, middle class district run by the county. Shelby County will absorb administration and education for 103,000 new students, more than tripling its current population of 47,000.
It would be tempting to view the Memphis dissolution as accomplishing what, decades ago, the Court in Milliken v. Bradley decided could not be done with civil rights law: the annulment of school district borders that separate a high-poverty, minority district from a middle class, predominantly white district in order to achieve school desegregation. As it turns out, racial integration is an unlikely outcome of the Memphis dissolution. Nonetheless, the racial and socioeconomic demographics of the two districts should make Memphis of great interest to policymakers and academics interested in regional equity, because Memphis City Schools will answer a question increasingly posed by city governments across the country: Can the dissolution of a city government into its county achieve a desirable redistribution and improved local governance, if not regional governance? This essay analyzes the Memphis school district dissolution, commenting on its significance for regional equity and local government law, particularly the nature of city versus county power.
Other Publications by:
Michelle Wilde AndersonView Publications