Nonwhite school districts get

$23 Billion

less than white districts despite serving the same number of students

The story of our communities can in many ways be told through the lens of the school districts that serve our children. More than organizations that enable learning, school districts are geographic boundaries that serve as magnifying lenses that allow us to focus on issues of race and wealth. They are both a statement of “what is” and “what could be” in our society.

School districts determine the extent to which we can integrate children in a classroom. Their borders can be used to either help remedy or further entrench a deep history of housing segregation. We can draw lines that equalize inherent disparities, or we can allow communities to isolate themselves behind unseen walls of wealth and prosperity—ensuring privilege remains solely within the grasp of the lucky few. Far too often, we choose the latter path.

The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity. Families with money or status can retain both by drawing and upholding invisible lines. Many families do just that. This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity.

Good schools can’t solve structural inequality on their own, but neither can it be solved without them. Without an effective education, our children’s futures are all but guaranteed to succumb to the imposed conditions of their lineage and location. And even after Brown v Board, even after decades of school finance litigation meant to equalize the playing field, and even after accounting for wealth disparities, the wrenching reality endures—the United States still invests significantly more money to educate children in white communities.

Taken together, these facts lay bare a simple truth: We haven’t gone far enough.

The national story

Despite more than a half-century of integration efforts, the majority of America’s school children still attend racially concentrated school systems. This is reflective of the long history of segregation—policies related to everything from voting to housing—that have drawn lines and divided our communities.

27% of students are enrolled in predominantly nonwhite districts.*
26% of students are enrolled in predominantly white districts.

Race and class are inextricably linked in the U.S. When comparing the poverty level of racially concentrated systems, a clear divide emerges. Predominantly white districts are far better off than their heavily nonwhite peers. These statistics confirm what we know about income inequality and the effects of segregation.

In the United States, 20% of students are enrolled in districts that are both poor and nonwhite,* but just 5% of students live in white districts that are equally financially challenged.

Small districts can have the effect of concentrating resources and amplifying political power. Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many.

White districts enroll just over 1,500 students—half the size of the national average, and nonwhite districts serve over 10,000 students—three times more than that average.

For decades, courts have endorsed the idea of “local control” by demanding that states fill in the financial gaps created by district gerrymandering. In doing so, they have ignored—or even endorsed—the same fractured system that creates the wealth gap they’re trying to solve.

Even when limiting our view to high-poverty school systems, the massive gap between poor-white and poor-nonwhite districts remains.

On the whole, nonwhite districts receive significantly less funding than white districts. Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.

For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.

Disparate impact is defined as a policy that is nondiscriminatory on its face, but produces disproportionate, adverse outcomes for people of a certain race. Students in poor nonwhite districts receive substantially less money than even their poor white peers, despite years of court rulings intended to create a level playing field for all students.

Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.

For decades states have been charged with filling in the gaps created by a concentration of wealth within invisible borders. “Local control” of taxes benefits only the privileged few—small white districts created by arbitrary lines that can raise unfettered money for their schools. As a general rule states haven’t kept up with the gaps created by an inherently unequal distribution of wealth in a racially fractured society.

Even after accounting for income, the average student in the U.S. inherits far more opportunity by attending a small, concentrated white school district. Because each state handles district boundaries and school funding differently, funding policies affect students in divergent areas in different ways.

But a single fact is clear—financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color. That is the inherent shame of the system we’ve built, and one we haven’t gone far enough to fix.

The state story

Ten of the twelve million students enrolled in racially concentrated nonwhite districts reside in states where the funding policies bias white districts. To see more about how states fare when comparing racially concentrated low-income districts, select a state from the drop-down menu below

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