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Janresseger: A Long History of Housing Redlining Has Shaped Today’s School Finance Inequity

In Schoolhouse Burning, a fascinating history of public education and racial injustice published in 2020, constitutional and civil rights scholar Derek Black describes school funding inequity based on studies by school finance expert, Bruce Baker: “(W)hen it comes to districts serving primarily middle income students, most states provide those districts with the resources they need to achieve average outcomes… But only a couple states provide districts serving predominantly poor students what they need. The average state provides districts serving predominantly poor students $6,239 less per pupil than they need.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 241)

In April of this year, 2022, the Albert Shanker Institute published a new study by Bruce Baker, Matthew Di Carlo and Preston C, Green III that digs deeper into the history of school finance inequity than earlier studies, which have documented inadequate school funding for students living in school districts with higher family poverty. The new study examines the long racist history of housing discrimination and its correlation with today’s school finance inequity across seven U.S. metropolitan areas—Baltimore, the Bay Area, Birmingham, Hartford, Kansas City, San Antonio, and the Twin Cities—during the past century:

“It is, perhaps, more palatable to view unequal educational opportunity as a side effect of income and wealth segregation than it is to see it as the end result of racism and discrimination. Yet the reality is that economic segregation, while interdependent with racial/ethnic segregation today, has its roots in generations of institutional policies and practices to keep people separate based solely on their race or ethnicity. Racism built the machine, even if economic inequality helps keep it running now.”

Baker, Di Carlo, and Green examine, “the association between modern school funding adequacy (and demographics) and ‘redlining’ maps drawn up during the late 1930s. These maps , which were commissioned by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), assigned A-D grades to neighborhood across the United States. The grades ostensibly assessed home lending risk, but they were based in no small part on the race of neighborhoods’ residents. The distribution of grades, therefore, roughly reflects both the segregation situation at the time and general (racialized) risk assessments that directly or indirectly influenced not only HOLC aid but also other federal (e.g., Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration) loan insurance decisions going forward, a practice known today as redlining…. The vast majority of neighborhoods that received lower (C or D) HOLC grades between 1935-40 are today located in school districts serving larger shares of Black and Hispanic students… Schools located in previously C-/D- graded zones are also typically those serving lower-income neighborhoods today…. Virtually all (school) districts that contain a large area of C-/D- graded HOLC zones are today funded below estimated adequacy levels.”

Here is how housing redlining across metropolitan areas of our nation has effected school funding over the past century: The ‘first order’ effects of segregation on wealth and income inevitably play out in ‘second order’ effects on local property tax revenue for K-12 schools. Most notably within most of our metro areas, the typical Black or Hispanic student’s district receives less local property tax revenue than does the typical white student’s district. State general aid in most areas closes at least part of the gaps, but, in any case, these resource disparities must be evaluated with an eye on a ‘third order’ effect of segregation on funding: The concentration of poverty in racially isolated areas not only depresses revenue, but also increases educational costs. That is, districts serving larger shares of high-needs students must invest more to achieve the same outcomes. This creates (and sustains) unequal educational opportunity—i.e., large gaps in the adequacy of school funding between students of different races and ethnicities living in the same metro area.”

Baker, Di Carlo, and Green conclude: “We establish… that, both nationally and in all seven metro areas upon which we focus in this report, Black and Hispanic homeowners, relative to their white counterparts, own homes of lower value and pay higher effective property tax rates. We then show… how these discrepancies—due to interdependent economic and racial/ethnic segregation—translate into not only lower local revenue for the typical Black and Hispanic student compared with their white peers, but also higher costs. The end result is severely unequal educational opportunity, which at each juncture is created and perpetrated by racial discrimination.”

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Jan Resseger

Before retiring, Jan Resseger staffed advocacy and programming to support public education justice in the national setting of the United Church of Christ—wo...