Gentrification and Urban Public School Reforms: The Interest Divergence Dilemma

57 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2015 Last revised: 16 Jan 2016

See all articles by Erika K. Wilson

Erika K. Wilson

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2015


Cities across the country cities are experiencing rapid increases in gentrification: the influx of middle-class, usually white, residents into cities with large minority populations. Reversing a decades long trend of white flight out of urban city schools, a significant number of white middle-class gentrifiers are now also enrolling their children in urban city public schools. Local officials in many gentrifying cities value the renewed interest of middle-class white in urban public schools because it represents an opportunity to finally racially integrate urban public schools. Further, it also represents an opportunity to keep middle-class gentrifiers,and their tax dollars, from fleeing to the suburbs and suburban school districts once they have school aged children.

In order to attract white middle-class gentrifiers, this Article suggests that some local officials in gentrifying cities are implementing certain public school reforms for the specific purpose of making their school systems more palatable to gentrifiers. Such reforms, the article argues, harm poor and minority students by disproportionally displacing them from their neighborhood public schools while simultaneously limiting the number of quality public and charter schools available to them. While advocates for poor and minority students are mounting legal challenges to the reforms, to date the legal challenges have not been successful because courts lack the doctrinal support to find that that the reforms constitute an actionable form of intentional discrimination. This Article applies Derek Bell’s Interest Convergence Theory and argues for the implementation of legislative solutions that can benefit both poor and minority students and gentrifiers. It suggests that such an approach is a more effective way than litigation to capitalize on the renewed interest of white middle class residents in urban public schools and to improve educational opportunities for poor and minority students in urban schools.

Keywords: gentrification, schools, race, segregation, desegregation, school reforms

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Erika K., Gentrification and Urban Public School Reforms: The Interest Divergence Dilemma (March 1, 2015). West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 118, No. 2, 2015, Available at SSRN:

Erika K. Wilson (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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