School districts that predominantly serve students of color received $23 billion less in funding than mostly white school districts in the United States in 2016, despite serving the same number of students, a new report found.
The report, released this week by the nonprofit EdBuild, put a dollar amount on the problem of school segregation, which has persisted long after Brown v. Board of Education and was targeted in recent lawsuits in states from New Jersey to Minnesota. The estimate also came as teachers across the country have protested and gone on strike to demand more funding for public schools.
“You can tell these dollars make a difference,” said Rebecca Sibilia, the chief executive of EdBuild, a nonpartisan organization focused on improving the way states fund public education.
“Walk into a rural nonwhite community,” she said. “Walk into an urban nonwhite school district. You can see what that means in terms of how much that has added up over time.”
The report took aim at school district borders, which it said can chop up communities and wall off wealthier districts to fund their schools with local property tax revenue, while poorer districts are unable to generate the same revenue.
“Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many,” the report said.
The report, which looked at state and local funding for school districts in the 2015-16 school year, found that more than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.
On average, nonwhite districts received about $2,200 less per student than districts that were predominantly white, according to the report.
School districts are generally funded locally, but states are supposed to “fill in the gaps” so communities are evenly funded despite wealth disparities, Ms. Sibilia said. The report showed that in many states, “they are not keeping up with their own obligation,” she said.
Differences in funding translate to the classroom, where underfunded communities often use older, worn textbooks and have less access to computers, said Francesca López, associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona.
“I can tell you as a parent and as a researcher, when I walk into a school district that is in one of these low-funded areas, it is a stark contrast,” Dr. López said. “They are basic rights to education, but look like amenities in comparison. It’s dramatic.”
The report identified certain states, like New Jersey, as among the “worst offenders.” In New Jersey, which divides students up into more than 500 districts, predominantly nonwhite districts received about $3,400 less per student than mostly white districts, the report said.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education said he had not seen the report and could not immediately comment.
Arizona also had one of the most drastic differences in funding among states listed in the report. Dr. López said that in her state, “boundary lines are a huge contributor because of gerrymandering, segregation and zoning.”
But she said the situation in Arizona was exacerbated by a new kind of “white flight” because of the popularity of charter schools and open enrollment, a policy that allows parents to request that their children attend schools outside the district. In Arizona, funding generally follows the student, rather than staying in the district.
“It’s depleting even more funding from these districts that were already at a disadvantage to begin with,” Dr. López said.
Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the department was aware of disparities in the state but did not believe the gap was “as egregious” as the report suggested.
“Equity and fairness are a major concern for us and we are open to exploring a variety of options to address these problems,” he said in a statement.
But he said the State Legislature would need to take action to consolidate school districts, something school boards generally oppose.
“It is far from certain that consolidation would help here,” he said. “What will help is more funding for education across the board,” with a focus on addressing inequities.
But Ms. Sibilia said that larger, more inclusive school district borders could help “smooth out” some of the wealth disparities in many places in the United States.
“If you have a wealthy suburb or subdivision that happens to have very high-value homes, that is a subdivision that is going to be able to raise a significant amount of money from their property taxes,” she said. “If you have a huge shopping mall in a suburb and you have a school district where they can keep their sales taxes, that’s also going to play a role in the ability to spread out that money.”
But right now, Ms. Sibilia said, about 180 school districts nationwide exist entirely within a larger school district — a figure she said showed how some school districts have become their own enclaves.
“When it comes to education,” she said, “it is a public good and people need to share their wealth with their neighbors.”
Follow Sarah Mervosh on Twitter: @smervosh.
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