Posted on February 27, 2019

Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

Clare Lombardo, NPR, February 26, 2019


In 2018, on the 64th anniversary of that ruling, a lawsuit filed in New Jersey claimed that state’s schools are some of the most segregated in the nation. That’s because, the lawsuit alleged, New Jersey school district borders are drawn along municipality lines that reflect years of residential segregation.

The idea that school district borders carry years of history is the premise of a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild, which studies the ways schools are funded in the U.S.

The report starts with a number: $23 billion. According to EdBuild, that’s how much more funding predominantly white school districts receive compared with districts that serve mostly students of color.

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

EdBuild singles out 21 states — including California, New Jersey and New York — in which mostly white districts get more funding than districts composed primarily of students of color.

More than half of students in the U.S. go to segregated or “racially concentrated” schools, according to the report. Those are schools in which more than three-quarters of students are white, or more than three-quarters are nonwhite.

Researchers found that high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average. That’s while school districts that are predominately white and poor receive about $130 less.


As Rebecca Sibilia, founder and CEO of EdBuild, explains, a school district’s resources often come down to how wealthy an area is and how much residents pay in taxes.

“We have built a school funding system that is reliant on geography, and therefore the school funding system has inherited all of the historical ills of where we have forced and incentivized people to live,” she says.

Public schools are primarily funded by local and state sources — the federal government pays for less than 10 percent, on average, of K-12 education. {snip}


{snip} In Arizona, poor, primarily white school districts get about $19,000 per student — while high-poverty, nonwhite districts get about $8,000, according to EdBuild.


Sibilia also points to the #RedForEd movements in Oklahoma and Colorado. Because those states have placed limits on their taxes, she says, they simply don’t have the income to step in and fund the school districts that need it most.


According to EdBuild researchers, predominantly white districts are often smaller than districts with mostly students of color: The former serves an average of just over 1,500 students, and the latter over 10,000, or three times the national average.

{snip} Sibilia says districts serving mostly students of color “rely more on the decisions that are being made at the state level, but there are fewer voices representing them. {snip}”

This power dynamic looks different in the South, where school district lines are often drawn along county lines, making districts larger across the board. Researchers found that funding looks more equal in states like Georgia and Alabama.