Public schools in the United States remain largely segregated by race and income, and, in some areas, the situation is only getting worse, according to a new study.
The nonprofit organization EdBuild released its latest report on Thursday, with an interactive map that helps visualize the country’s divisive education borders. Across 1,000 school districts, clear boundaries separate communities where students are mostly white and significantly wealthier, from poorer communities where there are significantly more black and Latinx students.
“If we don’t find ways as a society to address this [school district segregation], there’s little chance we can eliminate racial and economic disparities in educational opportunity,” Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University, told Global Citizen.
Nearly 9 million students in the US, or 1 in 5, live next door to a significantly whiter and richer school district. Economic barriers are preventing children from accessing opportunities that are available to others right near them, Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of EdBuild told US News. On average, these borders create a funding disparity of $4,207 per student.
And the bigger the funding gap, the more disadvantaged a community is, Sibilia said.
One of the country’s top school districts in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, for example, is 60% whiter than Philadelphia. Lower Merion students receive over $30,000 per student, nearly double that provided for students in the nearby city, 8% of whom are non-white.
EdBuild released the report on the 45th anniversary of the 1973 education equity Supreme Court case Milliken v Bradley. The court ruled 5-4 that school districts were not obligated to desegregate, unless it had been proven that the separations were drawn with racist intent. The ruling doesn’t prevent school districts and states from choosing to desegregate, but few have made the effort.
Lack of financial resources largely impact school district segregation. “A wealth of research tells us that increased school funding pays off, especially for children in poverty,” Zahava Stadler, director of policy at EdBuild told Global Citizen.
Federal funding alone doesn’t guarantee equal education opportunities, EdBuild has found. K-12 schools in wealthier communities have larger budgets to work with because school district budgets are closely tied to property taxes. States try to keep this in mind when they distribute funding by allocating more money to school districts with higher numbers of low-income children. But even then, wealthier neighborhoods are still at an advantage because parent-teacher associations may help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their schools to fill in the gaps of government funding. Low-income families who face economic distress don’t always have the means to donate at this rate, if at all.
To fight school segregation, states need to reduce reliance on local funding and increase equality in state funding, according to EdBuild.
“States need to tackle the things keeping our school districts separate and unequal both by rethinking the borders that divide their kids and by rewriting the school finance rules that turn school district lines into bank vaults,” Stadler explained.
State legislatures are considering amending housing policies and education funding to better integrate schools, according to US News. In July, Oregon introduced a law that allows duplexes to be built in areas traditionally zoned for single-family homes in cities with more than 10,000 people, making room for more affordable housing. Texas and Illinois have recently updated how they distribute state education funding to reach underserved communities better.
“When states approach education as a right of all their kids, no matter where they live,” Stadler said, “they can draw borders that are more inclusive and more fair.”