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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing the History of K-12 School Finance Policy and Politics

BOULDER, CO (January 18, 2024) – In this month's episode of NEPC Talks Education, Christopher Saldaña interviews Matthew Kelly, a professor of Educational Leadership at Penn State University. Kelly analyzes historical data to uncover how race, ethnicity, income, and residence are reflected in school funding policies.

In this month’s podcast, Professor Kelly discusses his book, Dividing the Public: School Finance and the Creation of Structural Inequity. He explains that he decided to write the book after discovering records detailing a robust state funding system in California as early as the 19th century. This historical evidence contradicts the prevailing notion among historians that school funding emerged in the United States as a predominantly local endeavor.

Kelly documents how every aspect of the school funding system in California involved state policymakers whose K-12 school finance decisions helped create school funding mechanisms that disproportionality benefited white Americans. His work challenges the widely held belief that current inequities in school funding arose naturally due to community formation and variation in the pace of industrialization. He shows, for example, how state policymakers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries advocated using expropriated indigenous lands for the founding and funding of public elementary and secondary schools for white children.

Kelly hopes readers take away the lesson from his book that, despite appearing race-neutral, school finance policy has been designed and implemented in ways that systematically disadvantage schools, communities, and students of color. Kelly argues that racialized educational policies are part of a larger recurring theme of extracting resources from communities of color to benefit white families. He encourages scholars to continue the study of K-12 school finance policy, practice, and politics to more fully uncover and better understand the racialized history of public education funding.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple Podcasts under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!


The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: