Applications for the St. Louis school desegregation program are decreasing, yet there’s still more demand than open slots.
At its height in the early 1990s, the program that started in 1982 as the result of lawsuit bused more than 13,000 black St. Louis students to predominantly white schools in St. Louis County. A smaller number of white students came into the city to attend St. Louis Public magnet schools.
The Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation — or as it’s more commonly know, VICC — has been winding down since a settlement in 1999, but it’s lived on through extensions.
Overall, about 4,000 black students participate in the program today, attending 11 St.Louis County schools. The program will accept 250 black students for the 2019 school year and open spots will decrease each year after that until 2023.
About 1,500 students applied for 315 slots for the 2018-19 school year, meaning only about one in five applicants was accepted. Preference is given to families who already had children in the program.
Applications dropped by a thousand for 2018-19 because VICC has stopped marketing the program to new families, said David Glaser, VICC executive director.
“I would say it was self-inflicted,” he said.
Parent involvement at county schools can be challenging and the bus rides long for students in VICC, Glaser said, but interest still exists.
“For those that are willing to make that sacrifice and make that commitment, I think they obviously see there are some benefits for their kids,” Glaser said.
Amanda Colon-Smith and her husband enrolled her son in the program for this school year. He started third grade at a Parkway elementary school in August.
“It was sort of a do it now or forever hold your peace, because we knew it was ending and we wouldn’t have that option in the future,” she said.
He’s adjusted well to the new school, Colon-Smith said, taking up the violin and making friends through soccer. It’s about an hour bus ride in each direction from their Tower Grove East neighborhood.
Colon-Smith has a daughter in a SLPS preschool. She hasn’t decided whether to enroll her in VICC when she’s old enough to ride the bus.
“To know that five-year extension gives us that option. We have a little bit more time to think about it,” she said.
The application deadline for younger siblings of families currently in VICC is Friday. The remaining spots for black students and white students who want to attend SLPS magnet schools will open in January.
The 1999 VICC settlement granted the program 10 more years, and the participating superintendents have approved three five-year extensions since then.
The 2016 extension is widely expected to be the last because federal courts have ruled race-based desegregation programs can’t last forever. It could evolve into a socio-economic based program but that hasn’t been decided yet.
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