METCO stands for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. Founded in 1966 in Boston, Massachusetts, METCO is the longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program in the country and a national model for the few other voluntary desegregation busing programs currently in existence.
The purpose of METCO
As defined by the original METCO Grant, the purpose of the program is, “To expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation by permitting students in Boston and Springfield to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate. The METCO program provides students of participating school districts the opportunity to experience the advantages of learning and working in a racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse setting.”  METCO was originally created as a short-term program designed as a stop-gap measure as Boston addressed its most under performing schools. However, due in part to the initial success of the program (and the continuing failure of many of Boston’s public schools), the program has been in place consistently since 1966.
The mission of METCO is two-fold: (1) to give students from Boston’s under-performing school districts the opportunity to attend a high-performing school and increase their educational opportunities and (2) to decrease racial isolation and increase diversity in the suburban schools. It has been reported both qualitatively and quantitatively that most families weigh the opportunity for an excellent education as far more important than decreasing racial isolation. While families may acknowledge it as an important side factor, it is generally referred to as secondary to the goal of maximizing educational opportunity. The program focuses heavily on the support network and environment in each of the towns in which it operates. METCO partner families or METCO “buddies” are designed to bring the communities together and provide support for METCO students in the town in which they attend school. A look at any of the community METCO sites is generally filled with advertisements for community events, such as the Weston/METCO Family Friends WHS Pumpkin Festival or the Weston/METCO Family Friends Ice Cream Social.
Funding and administration
METCO is a state-funded grant program run by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. While the Department has final authority related to the grant program, the Department works closely with the METCO Advisory Committee on policy, which consists of representatives from the METCO community, directors, superintendents, METCO Inc, and parent representatives. Overall, the program has two levels of administration. The central office in Roxbury organizes placements, transportation, special programs, and policy decisions. METCO directors and counselors in the suburbs work with METCO students, their parents, and the personnel in the school district. The program was originally supported through a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and the United States Office of Education. While some of the participating suburban communities pay for a portion of the costs themselves, METCO is paid for in large part by the state.
History of METCO
The program grew out of the dissatisfaction and frustration that preceded the violence and turmoil of Boston's desegregation busing efforts in the 1970s. After Judge Wendell Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that the Boston Public Schools were unconstitutionally segregated, he developed a busing plan designed to “balance” any school that had a non-white student population of over 50%. This policy was specifically designed to comply with the Racial Imbalance Law (passed by the state in 1965), which required school districts to implement plans to “balance” any school that was over 50% non-white. The busing caused incredible turmoil. Racism ran rampant in many parts of the city, leading to the creation of Restore Our Alienated Rights, an anti-desegregation busing organization designed to protect the “vanishing rights” of white citizens. Just prior to the implementation of this policy, a large number of black parents boycotted the Boston Public Schools for their failure to integrate. As this was happening, the Brookline Civil Rights Committee of Brookline, MA (a Boston suburb that borders the city) broached the possibility of enrolling black students from Boston in the Brookline Public Schools, sparking the conversation that would lead to the development of the METCO concept.
In 1966, METCO’s first year of existence, METCO Inc. was established and seven school districts (Braintree, Lincoln, Arlington, Winchester, Sharon and Concord) began to accept students. METCO Inc. was established in 1966 as the service provider, and facilitates the admissions process and day-to-day operations. Today there are approximately 3,300 students enrolled in the METCO program, the majority of whom come from the city of Boston (about 150 come from the city of Springfield). Overall, approximately 4,300 students have graduated from the program since its founding. In the 2010-2011 school year, 75.2% of METCO pupils were African American, 3.4% were Asian, 16.8% were Hispanic, and the remaining 5% were classified as multi-race or “other.” The majority of the 37 METCO receiving districts are largely white: 40% of the districts have populations that are over 90% white, and only two of the 37 districts were under 70% white. Boston's school district is currently 35% African-American, 41% Hispanic, 13% White and 8% Asian.
In order to qualify for the program, a student must be a resident of Boston or Springfield and be non-white. Eligibility does not take into account a student’s record (including academics and behavior), English language proficiency, socioeconomic status, attendance record or immigration status. The program (including transportation) is completely free and also provides free after-school tutoring and transportation. Chapter 76, Section 12A of Massachusetts General Law provides for the METCO program: “The school committee of any city or town or any regional district school committee may adopt a plan for attendance at its school by any child who resides in another city, town, or regional school district in which racial imbalance, as defined in section thirty-seven D of chapter seventy-one, exists in a public school. Such plan shall tend to eliminate such racial imbalance, shall be consistent with the purposes of said section thirty-seven D, and shall include an estimate of the expenses necessary to implement such plan." Chapter 71, Section 37D defines “racial imbalance” as a public school in which more than 50% of the students are minority (non-white) students. “Racial isolation” is defined as existing in a public school where under 30% of the student population consists of non-minority (white) students.
The size and the scope of the METCO program has changed dramatically, but the essential goals and logistics remain unchanged. However, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling has the potential to fundamentally alter the METCO program. Through the decisions Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, the Supreme Court determined that race cannot be a factor in school assignments. Should Metco be legally challenged by a white student, the program may be forced to use income instead of race to screen applicants. This would impact the program's usefulness as a desegregation tool.  No lawsuits challenging the program have yet been filed, but several communities have begun to discuss whether income should be used instead of race.
Participating METCO cities and towns
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- "Grants and Other Financial Assistance Programs." Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 8 October 2011.
- "Welcome to METCO, Inc." Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. 6 October 2011.
- Orfield, Gary, et al. "City-Suburban Desegregation: Parent and Student Perspectives in Metropolitan Boston." Harvard Civil Rights Project.Cambridge: John and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1997.
- "Weston/METCO Students Strive for Excellence." Weston Public Schools. 7 October 2011.
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- Logan, John, Deirdre Oakley, and Jacob Stowell. "Segregation in Neighborhoods and Schools: Impacts on Minority Children in the Boston Region." Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research. Albany: University of Albany, 2003.
- "Public School Options Grades K-12 in Massachusetts". MassResources.org. 11 October 2011.
- "General Laws." The 187th General Court of Massachusetts. 6 October 2011.
- Jan, Tracy. "METCO Fears For Its Future." 26 July 2007, Boston Globe. 9 October 2011.