The borders of many school districts serve to concentrate poverty in their classrooms and separate their students from resources. This report identifies the borders that create the greatest degree of economic segregation between districts.
The United States is dotted with left-behind places. Many mid-sized cities, especially in the former industrial regions spanning the northeast and Midwest, have struggled in a changing economy; they have seen employers leave and populations decline, leading to higher poverty rates and lower property values. When school district borders are drawn around these communities, poverty is concentrated in their classrooms, and school funding can become scarce. Sometimes, these borders also serve as walls between communities of very different means. On one side, needy students are isolated in a high-poverty school district; on the other, the children of an affluent community learn in a school system supported by a healthy local economy. This report identifies the borders that create the greatest degree of economic segregation between neighboring school districts.
America’s neighborhoods are all too segregated by race and class—and our school district borders mirror, and entrench, these divides.
There are almost 1000 school district borders in the United States that create steep divides: racial differences of 25 percentage points or more and revenue gaps of at least 10%. These borders cut illogically across communities and counties and serve to divide students from resources—and from each other. Along 132 of these borders, the divides are especially great, with racial disparities upwards of 50 percentage points and revenue gaps of 20% or more. And while it is true that predominately nonwhite communities are nationally disadvantaged when it comes to school funding, these divisive borders reveal that much of the reason for this is local, not national. Around the country, many school district borders both segregate students by race and define unequal tax bases that yield different levels of school funding.
Since 2000, 128 communities have tried to break away from their school district—and take their wealth with them.
Thirty states have explicit policies in place detailing how a community can secede from its current district, and most of those processes have no consideration for the needs of the students left behind. These laws, paired with school finance systems heighten the importance of local wealth, pave the way for gerrymandering that advantages the wealthy and deprives our neediest students of educational opportunities.
Even after accounting for wealth disparities, the United States invests significantly more money to educate children in white communities.
The inherent links between race and class in our country haven’t been remedied by school-funding lawsuits nor the passage of time. They remain ever present, and while we have made some progress on the issue of economic inequality in our schools, we still have a terribly inequitable system. For students of color, the problem is even worse. The concentration of low-wealth communities into partitioned communities is even more pronounced for communities of color due to the history of racial segregation in our country, both formal and informal. The ability of local districts to raise revenue for their schools is thus undermined. And political power in the state capitol is diffused and diminished, because there are six times more white districts representing their interests in state capitols than nonwhite districts.
The end result is fewer local resources and less state aid to compensate for it. And so, fifty years after Serrano v Priest, and despite decades of lawsuits throughout the country, there remains a $23 billion gap between white and nonwhite school districts, even though they serve the same number of children.