MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It's a decision that many parents in Montgomery consider: Public or Private. When it comes to education many say that schools in Montgomery have self segregated. Thousands of white students fill private schools while public schools are overwhelmingly black.
Many people will tell you Montgomery is unique in the number of private schools compared to its population. Most of the large, well-established private schools were already in operation by the time the courts integrated classrooms at Montgomery's best known high school, Sidney Lanier.
Arlam Carr first walked the halls of Sidney Lanier High School more than 40 years ago.
When Arlam's mother enrolled him at the all white Lanier High School, he didn't realize that what he was doing was so important. Her lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education became a landmark case eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the time, Arlam was one of 13 black students. Now there are only 4 white students at Lanier and that doesn't surprise him. Carr calls it, "A new segregation of Montgomery."
Montgomery County's population is 53% black, 42% white. MontgomeryPublic Schools reports that 78% of its students are black while only 15% are white.
So where are the white students? It appears many are in private schools. At three of the city's largest privates schools,St. James, Montgomery Academy and Trinity, the student population is at least 90% white.
At first, Lori White sent her children to private schools but later moved them to public system. "We decided the public school system was the mix we wanted our children around," said White.
For her the decision was about diversity. She wanted her children to be part of a more diverse student body. "We feel that is more representative of the real world. Montgomery is a city that still has a lot of work to do in that area," added White.
School Superintendent Barbara Thompson attended a segregated school growing up in Georgia. Today, she believes there are still some perception problems in Montgomery that if a school is diverse you can't get a good education."
Thompson argues that the opposite is true. "Children need a diverse atmosphere to expand their education. If you deny your kid that you're hurting their education," stated Thompson.
Montgomery Catholic Principal, Anne Caesar, agrees that diversity is a vital part of education. "Diversity is the real world, said Ceasar.
Is it really a black/white issue that is dividing our schools or does it come down to green money? Parents believe they get what they pay for.
St. James Head Master, Melba Richardson, believes the success of her school lies in a simple formula. "Educators + Students + Parents = Success. You leave one out and they won't succeed."
Lori White and Superintendent Thompson agree that parents are the missing links for many of the public school students. "We are doing a great job with the children who have family support, it's those who don't have the family support that we need to do a better job with, said Thompson.
Once quality is increased across the board, Thompson feels more parents will send their youngsters to the public school system.
Public vs. Private is a choice that's not always black and white, there's the green too. There is a steadily increase in the cost of private school tuition, fees and extras.
At the three largest private high schools in Montgomery, tuition and fees are in the $10-thousand a year range. Just another ingredient in a difficult decision for parents that affects their child's life forever.
For some parents the decision is as simple as having faith. At schools like Montgomery Catholic students can pray openly and that's the opportunity some parents want their children to have