Effects of segregation evident in neighboring districts
By Matthew Adarichev
Jericho High School is widely considered to be one of the best high schools not just in Nassau County, but in the country. The school repeatedly produces numerous National Merit Scholars and high SAT scores. For the class of 2023, the school had a whopping 15 valedictorians.
Just three miles away is Westbury High School. Located on a campus half the size of Jericho’s, Westbury has a lower graduation rate, offers fewer college-level classes (Jericho has many more students taking and passing them), and has nearly six times more students on the free or reduced-price lunch program.
How do two neighboring schools end up with such different outcomes?
School districts are funded mostly by property taxes, meaning if housing values in a district are low, the school will likewise suffer from a lack of funding. Due to institutional barriers, Black and Latino families end up in neighborhoods with lower housing values, leaving many majority-minority school districts short on funds, as is the case in school districts across Nassau County.
Jericho and Westbury are one example of this phenomenon, and not the worst. Though the municipalities do not perfectly align with their eponymous school districts, the median housing value in Jericho is vastly higher than in Westbury; the latest Census Bureau figures show the hamlet’s at $826,400 compared to the village’s $496,200.
Likewise, Jericho High School is majority Asian and White, while Westbury High School is majority Latino and Black or African-American. As such, the average student at Westbury is simply not afforded as good an education as neighboring Jericho.
As I have alluded to, this is no accident. The story begins with the Great Depression, when the Franklin Roosevelt administration provided cheap loans for housing through the Federal Housing Administration. However, in order to institute the FHA, Roosevelt needed support from the Southern Democrats who then dominated the Senate. These politicians shaped the law so that minorities, and in particular African-Americans, would not benefit from it.
“As a result, national programs were administered locally,” said Alan Singer, professor of Teaching, Learning and Technology at Hofstra University. “The Federal Housing Administration even said in its documents that the ethnic and racial composition of neighborhoods should be maintained.”
What resulted was “redlining,” a process where the FHA marked areas of towns “red” where lending was deemed “Hazardous”. Areas with high minority, but especially Black populations, were routinely colored “red.”
“Local banks on Long Islands did not issue mortgages to certain communities, many of whom were minority communities,” said Singer.
[There is a] practice [among] real estate brokers to not show homes in certain places to people of color.
—Lawrence Levy of Hofstra University
As a result, minority populations were unable to secure loans for homes. Thus, high-minority population school districts entered destructive cycles where there was not enough of a tax base to properly fund schools, causing property values to plummet further and with it, funding for schools.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 outlawed racial discrimination in housing, but Lawrence Levy, Pulitzer Prize finalist and executive dean of Hofstra University’s Long Island Studies Institute, explained how racial discrimination in housing continues to be an issue today.
“[There is a] practice [among] real estate brokers to not show homes in certain places to people of color,” he told me. “[There are] individuals who…won’t sell their home to somebody who’s not like them…this is me just reflecting other people’s research and reporting.”
One such groundbreaking report on racial discrimination in housing, the culmination of three years of investigative journalism, was released by Newsday in 2019. Their findings?
“Black testers experienced disparate treatment [from real estate agents] 49 percent of the time – compared with 39 percent for Hispanic and 19 percent for Asian testers [compared to White testers]…the investigation reveals that Long Island’s dominant residential brokerage firms help solidify racial separations. They frequently directed white customers toward areas with the highest white representations and minority buyers to more integrated neighborhoods.“
In addition, with the growth of immigration to Nassau County in recent years, Levy mentioned the unwillingness of Long Island jurisdictions to construct affordable housing for lower-income and immigrant communities (which skew minority) as a factor that perpetuates the aforementioned economic and racial separation.
Coupled with the fact that Black and Latino homeowners are more likely to have their homes undervalued and earn less for the same job compared to whites, Westbury students are forced to struggle against structural hurdles that other students do not have to face.
—Matthew Adarichev is a journalist from Westbury studying Public Policy and Public Service at Hofstra University. He attended Jericho High School.
By The Numbers
Enrollment (K-12) 3,176 4,589
Per Pupil Expenditure $34,367 $26,446
Graduation Rate (4-Year) 97% 91%
Enrollment By Race
African Americans 2% 21%
Hispanic 3% 74%
Asian/Pacific Islanders 68% 1%
White 24% 3%
English Language Learners 169 1,460
Homeless 19 53
Grade 3 ELA 91 33
Grade 8 ELA 89 33
Grade 3 Math 91 24
Grade 8 Math 60 8
Grade 4 Science 98 0
Grade 8 Science 59 4
*–The percentage of students who scored a 3 or 4 on the New York State
tests, which the state considers a proficient score.
All statistics are from the NYS Department of Education website
and are from 2020-21 school year, except for enrollment figures,
which are from 2021-22.