METCO stands for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. Founded in 1966 in Boston, Massachusetts, the program 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 Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act (RIA) in 1966, and amended in 1974, is the legal basis for voluntary interdistrict transfers for the purpose of desegregation (such as METCO). In recent years the gap between cost and funding has increased, and the program has been criticized as severely underfunded by advocates and opponents alike.
- 1 Purpose
- 2 Funding and administration
- 3 History
- 4 Eligibility
- 5 Current challenges and controversies
- 6 Participating municipalities
- 7 References
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 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, to give students from Boston's under-performing school districts the opportunity to attend a high-performing school and increase their educational opportunities and 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 students within the program in the town in which they attend school. A look at any of the community sites is generally filled with advertisements for community events, such as the Wayland/METCO Florence Adler 5k Walk/Run, 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 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 students in the program, 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.
The program grew out of the dissatisfaction and frustration with the Boston School Committee. 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, Brookline, Lexington, Newton and Wellesley) began to accept students. METCO Inc. was established in 1966 as the service provider, and facilitates the student referral process and day-to-day operations. As of 2015 there are approximately 3,300 students enrolled in the program, the majority of whom come from the city of Boston (about 150 come from the city of Springfield). As of 2001, 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 METCO program was established to shift students from "racially imbalanced" (>50% nonwhite) to "racially isolated" (<30% nonwhite) districts, and the majority of receiving districts remain racially isolated. Boston's school district is currently 35% African-American, 41% Hispanic, 13% White and 8% Asian. As of 2010-2011, 33 of the 37 receiving districts remained "racially isolated" (over 70% white) while 4 receiving districts are "racially balanced" (50%-70% white).
Lincoln originally targeted a "critical mass" of 20-25% METCO students in each classroom. Once a study was done of the cost of METCO and the impact on number of classrooms, Lincoln reduced its participation to around 10%.
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 which may be a lengthy drive depending on town) does not cost the student money and also provides after-school tutoring and transportation.
The state legislature only provides METCO funds for Boston and Springfield to send students to nearby school districts.
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.
While the Racial Imbalance Act was passed in 1966 (and amended in 1974) to support desegregation, not all METCO student transfers are desegregating according to the law. In 2016, some receiving districts continue to receive METCO students yet are not "racially isolated" (fewer than 30% non-white students). Due to rapid demographic changes, one receiving district (Lexington) is in 2016 exceeding 50% non-white students in its schools. As a consequence, one study finds that under this state of "racial imbalance", Lexington is ineligible to receive METCO students under the parameters of the Racial Imbalance Act.
Current challenges and controversies
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[when?] been filed, but several communities have begun to discuss whether income should be used instead of race.
Receiving school districts offer numerous tutoring, extended day, and counseling benefits exclusively to METCO students, despite constitutional issues with use of race to determine programmatic eligibility.
When METCO was initiated in 1966, receiving districts received a state grant covering transportation costs for students, and a tuition assessment set by receiving districts. Over time, the financial system evolved from one where receiving districts set tuition rates, to a "grant" system where a standard per-pupil grant of $3,925 (FY2017) is provided to receiving districts, almost all of which is used to fund METCO direct services with no money available for indirect general educational expenses.  The Boston School Committee does not pay METCO financial expenses, having passed a resolution supporting METCO upon the condition that Boston not contribute financially. The consequence is that receiving districts must make up the gap in costs.   
Performance measurement and referral practices
While numerous studies have compared METCO student success with general populations in Boston or the state, no controlled studies have been done to determine effects. METCO students come from families with higher income levels than the Boston population at large, and an extended wait list system which requires registration as early as infancy may be biased against participation by transient and low income populations. Rather than randomized referral to suburbs from the wait list, METCO Inc. states that its policy is to give priority based on waitlist order. It is unclear whether this process has been audited by the state and whether Metco Inc. provides preferential referral to affiliated individuals.
METCO Inc. as operating agency without competitive bid
METCO Inc. has been written into the legislation to operate the METCO program without a competitive bid process. Moreover, METCO Inc. was established to advocate for African-American students, but is expected to operate the METCO program for the benefit of all Boston minority students.
METCO Inc. forced the resignation of its 43 year executive director, Jean McGuire, in September 2016. The METCO Board described this as simply a retirement agreement, while Mrs. McGuire later told the Boston Globe she was forced to resign due to "age discrimination."
Local METCO directors can apply funds towards expenses such as snacks and party goods. Wayland's METCO director was audited for a series of "questionable and undocumented" expenses reimbursed through the METCO discretionary account.
Boston and Springfield are the two districts which send students to receiving communities.
Receiving Districts - Boston Students
A subset of school districts in the Boston area participate in METCO, typically those districts which are more affluent (and can subsidize the program).
Receiving Districts - Springfield Students
- Eaton, Susan. The Other Boston Busing Story. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001. Print.
- "Grants and Other Financial Assistance Programs." Archived 2011-11-13 at the Wayback Machine. 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.
- "METCO Program." Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 5 October 2011.
- Angrist, Joshua and Kevin Lang. "Does School Integration Generate Peer Effects? Evidence from Boston's Metco Program." Evaluation of Labor Market Policies and Projects. Bonn: The Institute of the Study of Labor, 2004.
- 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.
- Statistics from http://prrac.org/pdf/METCOMeritsMore.pdf, p7. Standards for racial isolation, racial balance, and racial imbalance originate from the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act.
- Report of the Lincoln Schools K-8 Task Force
- "Public School Options Grades K-12 in Massachusetts" Archived 2012-03-19 at the Wayback Machine.. MassResources.org. 11 October 2011.
- "General Laws." The 187th General Court of Massachusetts. 6 October 2011.
- http://prrac.org/pdf/METCOMeritsMore.pdf, p7 has statistics on receiving districts as of 2009-2010.
- Jan, Tracy. "METCO Fears For Its Future." 26 July 2007, Boston Globe. 9 October 2011.
- http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/2016/02METCO.pdf, p11
- Lily Geismer, Don't Blame Us, Princeton University Press, 2015, p311, footnote 56.