Opinion
Education Funding Opinion

Black Families Don’t Need ‘Fixing.’ They Need Better School Financing

Ed. reform must account for the value extracted by racism
By Andre Perry — August 26, 2020 5 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

It’s hard to imagine another modern-day institution that has categorically robbed Black Americans of as much life, liberty, and wealth as the criminal-justice system. Racist policing literally arrests economic and social mobility, cutting Black breadwinners, innovators, and taxpayers out of the economy.

But as pernicious as the criminal-justice system has been, we have yet to reckon with another system that arrests Black mobility just as, if not more, chronically: a school financing system built on segregation, in which schools predominated by students of color receive an annual $23 billion less than majority-white institutions.

School financing systems, which draw upon local property taxes, epitomize structural inequality. District boundaries have been significantly influenced by white people’s collective refusal—cloaked in a pursuit of “choice"—to integrate neighborhoods and schools.

Federal policies and local actors have downgraded residential properties in Black neighborhoods throughout the 20th century while facilitating growth in the white suburbs. In 2018, the Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program published a report on Black housing assets in which my colleagues and I found that—after controlling for factors such as housing quality, neighborhood quality, education, and crime—owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average. Nationwide, this disparity amounts to a whopping $156 billion in annual cumulative losses.

As damaging as these structural systems are, they also reinforced the white-supremacist myth that the condition of Black neighborhoods and schools are a direct result of the people in them. Our research found, however, that it is the concentration of Black people, not their actions, that is associated with lower home values. Devalued homes equal less money from property taxes, which nets less funding for schools. Less money for schools results in lower educational outcomes.

When you accept the status quo, you have little room but to blame Black people for a system we didn't create."

Massive racial disparities in funding disempower students of color, who make up the majority of those who attend public schools. Teachers in these districts, who have fewer resources to work with, are also disempowered.

Research from Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis shows what should be intuitive: Community wealth is positively correlated with academic achievement. Education reforms have the ability to develop communities in ways that can add value to Black people. Yet many education reformers avoid, accept, or even embrace segregation as the status quo.

In a 2017 public statement responding to an Associated Press report that showed charters were more segregated than traditional schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools essentially said that it was not their concern: “In the end, parents’ and students’ opinions are the only ones that matter.”

Of the many problems with the charter lobby’s statement, one stands out. When you reform within the confines of inequality, when you accept the status quo, you have little room but to blame Black people for a system we didn’t create.

When I was a charter school leader in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I saw how the charter takeover of a Black-majority district resulted in the summary firing of a mostly Black education workforce, which led to significant reductions of Black educators. In the 2004-05 academic year, the year before Katrina, 17 percent of the teachers in New Orleans public schools had less than three years of experience—a gauge of lower-quality teaching—according to Tulane University’s Cowen Institute. By 2009-10, that percentage had more than doubled.

The percentage of Black teachers dropped from 71 percent to 49 percent between 2005 and 2014, which was equivalent to about 4 percent of the entire African American working-age population of New Orleans at the time, according to the Education Research Alliance.

That precipitous decline could not have happened without deliberate efforts to import a younger, whiter workforce. Reformers were more than willing to rebuild the same racist structures without Black women—the largest demographic among the fired employees.

These education “reforms” clearly eroded the Black middle-class tax base and reduced job opportunities for Black children upon graduation—the people reform was supposed to help.

Black districts, teachers, students, and parents don’t need fixing. The so-called Black-white “achievement gap” is more illustrative of the systematic devaluation of Black lives than revealing something broken with Black students or schools. Black students don’t need vouchers, charters, and other choice mechanisms that don’t address the source of inequality. There’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.

Education reform moving forward must restore the value that’s been extracted by racism—adding jobs, wealth, education, and political power to Black districts and communities.

Luckily, there are those who choose to dismantle the sources of inequality rather than reform within those structures.

In a substantive attempt to level the education playing field, in October 2019, a Maryland state panel voted to recommend a new funding formula that calls for school spending to increase by $4 billion per year by 2030. About a third of that increase, $1.2 billion, would come from local municipalities, with the state picking up the remaining $2.8 billion per year—37 percent more than it currently spends. The increases would be phased in over the course of this decade. How to pay for this plan—which would benefit low-income districts—will certainly be a challenge amid a pending recession. But if Black lives are to matter, states must alter their funding formulas.

We must hire also more Black teachers.

Black students who have one Black teacher by 3rd grade are 7 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, according to a 2018 analysis by researchers Seth Gershenson, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Joshua Hyman, Constance Lindsay, and Nicholas W. Papageorge. After having two Black teachers, Black students’ likelihood of enrolling in college increases by 40 percent.

The Black Lives Matter movement has catalyzed substantive changes to federal, state, and local criminal-justice policies. It’s past time we have a similar reckoning with an unjust education system that has left so many Black children and teachers behind.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the September 02, 2020 edition of Education Week as The Hidden Racism of Our School Financing System

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Miguel Cardona's First Budget Hearing Becomes Forum on In-Person Learning, 1619 Project
In his first public testimony to Congress as education secretary, Cardona also touched on standardized testing and student discipline.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, right, talks to 12th grade art student Madri Mazo at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, left, talks to 12th grade art student Eugene Coleman at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. in April.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Education Funding States Are Waffling Over Billions in K-12 Federal Relief. Schools Are Getting Antsy.
Schools in some states have already started spending money from recent federal stimulus packages. Others don’t yet have the dollars in hand.
6 min read
Conceptual image of money dropping into a jar.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Opinion The COVID-19 Stimulus Money Won’t Last Forever. Here’s What's Next for Schools
There are three important first steps for states to start helping schools prepare now, write two policy experts.
Zahava Stadler & Victoria Jackson
5 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Education Funding Opinion What Ed. Leaders Can Learn From a Wildfire About Spending $129 Billion in Federal Funds
There are five entrenched routines that leaders should reject to forge a better path forward after the pandemic.
Kristen McQuillan
4 min read
Firefighters fighting fire
akiyoko/iStock/Getty