In 1968, families of students attending Los Angeles County public schools took legal action against the state of California. They argued that the state’s funding system -- which depended mostly on local property taxes -- was unfair to students from low-earning communities.
The California Supreme Court agreed, finding that the system violated the students’ rights. In its 1971 ruling, it demanded that the state legislature create a new method for funding schools that would deal with the large differences in wealth across school district borders.
The case became known as Serrano v. Priest. It was considered a major step in improving education in urban areas and closing funding differences in school districts across America.
Almost 50 years later, however, a new report says the country still has a long way to go. The nonprofit research group EdBuild found that, nationwide, school districts whose students are mostly white receive $23 billion more than school districts that are majority non-white.
The report named California -- as well as New York and New Jersey -- as one of the states with the greatest funding differences between white and non-white students.
EdBuild researchers examined financial data from the 2015-2016 school year. They looked at money that went to public school districts where at least three out of four students are white. They compared that to money spent on districts where at least three out of four students are non-white.
The two kinds of districts serve almost the same number of students, EdBuild notes. About 12.8 million children attend schools in majority-nonwhite districts and 12.5 in majority-white districts.
When broken down, that means majority non-white districts received $2,226 less per student than majority white districts.
In California, that number was about $2,390 less per student.
And, in New Jersey, the difference was even higher: $3,446. Last year, Latino rights groups and others took legal action against the state. They argued that some New Jersey laws and policies block a high number of Black and Latino students from receiving a “thorough and efficient education.”
Their case was filed on the 64th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separating children in public schools based on race was unconstitutional.
Local control of public schools
Public schools educate 90 percent of America’s K-12 students. The public school a student can attend is mostly decided by where their family lives.
Public school districts get money from both state and local governments. The funding methods differ by state.
Many school districts depend heavily on money from local property taxes. In fact, the majority of children in America are served by school districts funded in this way.
Some districts also get funds from state operated competitive games of chance, like the lottery. Others receive money raised from local sales taxes and other methods.
Local governments have the power to decide school district borders. This “local control,” EdBuild researchers say, works well for some but not for others. They write that wealthy communities can “use existing laws and political power to draw borders around themselves, keeping deep pockets of money in while leaving less-privileged children out.”
Education experts, including EdBuild chief Rebecca Sibilia, describe the process as gerrymandering -- the dividing of a state or school district in a way that gives one group an unfair advantage.
Sibilia said in a statement, “So long as we link opportunity to gerrymandered borders and school funding to local wealth, we will never have a fair education system.”
Sibilia added that her group’s findings make it hard to deny that “America is investing billions more in the futures of white children.”
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Ashley Thompson wrote this report. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
funding - n. available money
district - n. an area established by a government for official government business
urban - adj. of or relating to cities and the people who live in them
thorough - adj. including every possible part or detail
efficient - adj. capable of producing desired results without wasting materials, time, or energy
segregate - v. to separate groups of people because of their particular race, religion, etc.
draw - v. to make (a picture, image, etc.) by making lines on a surface
pocket - n. the amount of money that someone has available to spend
privileged - adj. having special rights or advantages that most people do not have
advantage - n. something (such as a good position or condition) that helps to make someone or something better or more likely to succeed than others
opportunity - n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done