It may be several years before the results of Census 2000 are available in anyy usable form, but certain trends have already begun to emerge from the raw data. Most significantly, as Chilton Williamson, Jr., and Roger McGrath have pointed out earlier in this issue, the Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow at a phenomenal rate—and that trend seems to have been magnified here in Rockford. For the first time in decades, Rockford’s population has risen—a remarkable occurrence in a city that has weathered severe economic storms and a decade-long desegregation lawsuit, which pushed our property taxes to the highest in the country.

Even more remarkable is the fact that almost all of the growth can be attributed to the change in our Hispanic population. In 1990, Rockford had 139,426 residents; by 2000, that number had climbed to 150,115, an increase of 7.7 percent. In raw numbers, Rockford’s population grew by 10,689 residents; the Hispanic population exploded from 5,210 to 15,278, a 193-percent increase, accounting for 94 percent of Rockford’s total population growth.

For the first time in decades, Rockford’s population density seems to have increased—which would not necessarily have been a bad thing, if population had stayed constant or fallen. Rockford has engaged in a land grab over the last several decades, gobbling up unincorporated areas of Winnebago County—usually farmland or forest. As the strip malls, chain restaurants, and tree-less subdivisions brimming with vinyl-sided ranches have eaten up our open spaces, population density has fallen steadily, from 4,309 people per square mile in 1970 to 3,105 per square mile in 1990. Though libertarian advocates of paving the earth would undoubtedly try, it is hard to argue that our quality of life has increased as Rockford’s centers of commerce and industry have moved farther away from the center of our population, which, despite the expansion of the city’s limits, still lies relatively close to the historic downtown.

In other words, the last decade may have been the worst of both worlds for Rockford, as city government has expanded its services into formerly open spaces (and raised taxes in order to do so), while population density has risen in the older districts of the city—which, as a result of our past several mayors’ fixation on new development, have been more or less neglected. Barring a significant drop in Hispanic immigration, the prospects for the future do not look much better.

Why has the Hispanic population of Rockford increased so dramatically? Some of the growth can be attributed, of course, to the general increase in the Hispanic population of the United States, and some, undoubtedly, has occurred because of our proximity to Chicago, which has been a popular destination for Hispanic immigrants. As with so many other issues here in Rockford, however, the growth of the Hispanic population is also inextricably tied to the desegregation suit against the Rockford School District.

When a group of parents calling themselves “People Who Care” first filed the case back in 1989, they had a very specific goal: the reopening of Rockford’s West High School. They were also concerned about a general disparity in funding between schools on Rockford’s poorer west side and schools on the rapidly expanding east side. The ease can be said to have broken along class lines, but certainly not racial ones: Sixty percent of the students at West High were white. People Who Care made the mistake of hiring Bob Howard, a Chicago attorney, who turned the case into a federal class-action desegregation suit. Forced busing and court-ordered taxes soon followed.

Rhetorically, the Rockford schools case has followed traditional paths, with most of the discussion focused on raising the test scores of black students and busing white ones. But—although the discrimination allegedly occurred largely during the 1960’s and 70’s—Hispanics were also placed in the plaintiff class, despite the fact that, by the time of the lawsuit, there were still only 1,226 Hispanic students in a district of close to 30,000, and Hispanics made up a mere 3.7 percent of Rockford’s population.

Despite the black-and-white rhetoric surrounding the ease, much effort and money were spent on programs purportedly designed to help Hispanic students. Rockford now has an extensive Spanish/English bilingual program—although, at least at the crown jewel of the program (the Barbour Two-Way Language Immersion Magnet School), the emphasis is mostly on Spanish: The Rockford School District’s website ( notes that kindergarten students at Barbour receive 90 percent of their instruction in Spanish. By the fifth to eighth grades, classroom time is supposed to be divided equally between English and Spanish.

With the district providing extensive (and expensive) programs for Hispanic students, it is not surprising that their number has increased 200 percent over the past ten years, from 1,226 in 1990 to 3,678 in 2000. (Black enrollment, by contrast, has increased about 38 percent.) Obviously, much of the increase in Hispanic enrollment is the result of immigration to Rockford (not just births to Hispanics who are already here), but the influences run both ways: Some of the immigration was undoubtedly driven by the expansion of programs for Hispanics.

While the desegregation lawsuit is supposed to come to an end on June 30, 2002, formerly court-mandated programs for Hispanic students are unlikely to disappear. Ironically, those who are concerned about the balkanization of our school district and skyrocketing expenses may find support from some Hispanic parents who, as school-board member Stephanie Caltagerone points out, are disturbed by the amount of time their children spend in Spanish-language instruction. Still, unless and until the southern border of the United States becomes a little less permeable, the question of bilingual education will never be resolved.