As Charlotte grew in size, more and more families moved in from other parts of the country. These families hadn’t taken part in the integration struggles of the 1970s, but many of them were dissatisfied with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools assignment plan. They felt that their children shouldn’t have to be bused to other parts of the county, enduring long bus rides when there were good schools located in their own neighborhoods. Charlotte’s suburbs were expanding farther and farther outward, complicating the process of busing inner-city students to the suburbs and vice versa. Some students traveled almost an hour each way to attend school.
As a potential solution to these problems, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools instituted a system of magnet schools in the early 1990s, with magnet programs like International Baccalaureate, Visual and Performing Arts, and Math/Science. It was hoped that these schools would create a kind of voluntary desegregation, in which white suburban parents chose to bus their children to inner-city schools rather than having them forcibly assigned to those schools. In every magnet school, enrollment was decided using a lottery system, but 40 percent of the seats were reserved for black students to preserve racial balance. Critics of the magnet program believed that it was a temporary and ineffective solution that benefited white suburban students much more than inner-city minority students.
Despite these programs aimed at preserving integration, by the mid-1990s many felt that Charlotte’s schools were beginning a decline back to segregation. In 1996, there were more than 25 schools with a large majority of students of one race, defying the district’s commitment to avoid racially-identifiable schools. Test scores were lower in those schools that were majority black, and many of them were located in older facilities with inexperienced teachers.