Tennessee schools dispute pits 'haves' against 'have-nots'

Memphis district aims to disband to force wealthier suburban system to absorb its students...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — School districts around the nation are being buffeted by turmoil and uncertainty, but nowhere are those forces more powerful than in this Mississippi River city.

At the heart of it, the turbulence is about dollars and cents and the quality of education. Fearing possible threats to its funding, the failing inner-city Memphis City Schools, with 209 schools and 108,000 students, decided to force a merger with its smaller, more affluent neighbor — Shelby County Schools.

To accomplish that, the district’s board surrendered its charter in November. That unprecedented move, essentially undoing the creation of the Memphis district in 1869, was subsequently approved by the City Council and by the city’s voters in a referendum in March.

But while the move might make sense economically, it has triggered a heated debate about the fairness of merging two districts with different levels of academic achievement. It has even stirred the ghosts of the city’s legacy of busing students to alleviate racial inequities in the school system.

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