Dismissed: America’s Most Divisive Borders

      Thirteen districts surround Philadelphia’s public school system. Two-thirds of these neighboring school systems are at least 25 percentage points whiter, and have a minimum of 10% more funding—an average of over $5,000 more in per-pupil dollars. One of these, Lower Merion, is consistently named one of the nation’s top school districts. Lower Merion is 60% whiter than Philadelphia, and its students receive over $30,000 per student—nearly double that provided for the students of Philadelphia, of whom 86% are nonwhite. Philadelphia is far from alone. Nationwide, there are almost 1,000 school district borders that so significantly separate neighboring districts by race and funding.

      Forty-five years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided Milliken v. Bradley, a pivotal education equity case that set the terms of our fractured education system. In that ruling, the Court acknowledged profound school district segregation in and around Detroit, but upheld the use of an arbitrary school district border to deny opportunity to the city’s children. The Court ruled that when students are segregated not by law, but by a school district border, the federal courts have no way to mandate integration across that boundary. When a line is drawn, for all intents and purposes, it becomes a wall—one that can separate our students by race, class, and opportunity.

      A school district’s border dictates who goes to school in that district, but that isn’t all. Because school funding begins with local taxes, these lines also largely determine which kids have access to what resources. Put simply, high-poverty communities tend to get fewer school dollars than more advantaged ones; majority-minority districts usually get less than whiter ones; and poor, nonwhite communities are disadvantaged twice over when it comes to school funding. In fact, almost 9 million students in America—one in five public schoolchildren—live virtually across the street from a significantly whiter and richer school district. For every one student enrolled in a whiter and richer district in our study, three of their neighbors are left behind in lower-funded schools serving far more nonwhite students.

      These pairs of neighboring districts see both a racial divide of at least 25 percentage points and a revenue gap of 10% or greater. On average, the divisive borders between them create a funding disparity of $4,207 per student. It is even worse for students on the disadvantaged side of the 132 most divisive borders, where the revenue gap is at least 20% and the racial difference is upwards of 50 points—a race gap wider than the one between Atlanta’s schools and those in Boulder, Colorado. Those borders produce, on average, a resource inequality of more than $6,500. The more divided by race our school districts are, the larger the funding gap that students see.

      These divides have real consequences for students across the country. Explore the map to see where borders separate students from resources—and from each other or click here to read the report.

      Divisive School District Borders
      Deeply Divisive School District Borders
      Nine hundred sixty-nine divisive school district borders mark significant gaps between neighboring districts: 10% differences in school funding, or $4,207 per pupil on average, and 25-point divides in rates of nonwhite enrollment. That racial difference is about the same as the one between Beverly Hills, California and Charleston, South Carolina.
      One hundred thirty-two school district borders create especially deep divides. They mark 20% gaps in school funding, or an astonishing $6,828 per pupil on average. These borders also mark vast 50-point divides in rates of nonwhite enrollment—about the difference between the racial makeups of Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia.
      Click on a state to learn about its divisive borders, or click on a star to see on the ground press coverage.
      New Jersey
      Divisive School District Borders
      Click on a district to learn more about its divide.
      Click on a starred district to read its story.
      District Name Neighbor Name(s)
      New Jersey
      Students Revenue per pupil Percent nonwhite Student poverty rate
      This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation
      NPR dives into the history of Milliken v. Bradley in Detroit, and travels to Long Island to see the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision, 45 years later.
      45 years later, this case is still shaping school segregation in Detroit — and America
      Hundreds of School Districts Nationally Deeply Divided Based on Race and Funding
      A new report finds about a thousand school district borders divide the most racially and financially disparate school districts around the country. The report by EdBuild finds that Illinois is among the worst states when it comes to disparities between districts. The border between East Aurora District 131 and Batavia School District 101 is among the most divisive.
      Critically Divisive Lines: Why Inequity Persists In Illinois Schools
      Illinois Public Media dives into one of the 969 divisive borders in the country. Lee Gaines talks to the valedictorian of Depue Community Unit School District 103 about going to school on the under-resourced side of the school district border.
      Petersburg, Colonial Heights District Border Mostly Deeply Divided by Race, Funding
      PHOTOS: Where The Kids Across Town Grow Up With Very Different Schools
      An island of wealth surrounded by the city of Oakland
      PHOTOS: Where The Kids Across Town Grow Up With Very Different Schools
      In Connecticut, one district "eclipsed" by its neighbor
      PHOTOS: Where The Kids Across Town Grow Up With Very Different Schools
      The California coastline, marked by inequality
      PHOTOS: Where The Kids Across Town Grow Up With Very Different Schools
      A racial divide between two rural districts
      PHOTOS: Where The Kids Across Town Grow Up With Very Different Schools
      Stark differences, in black and white