School funding reform can pay reparations to tackle racial inequalities in education

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White public schools have always received more money than black public schools. These funding disparities date back to the so-called “separate but equal” era, which was enshrined in the laws of the land by the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

The disparities persisted even after Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that ordered the desegregation of U.S. public schools. Since black schools receive less funding even though black homeowners pay higher property taxes than their white counterparts, we believe repairs are due – and they can be paid for by reforming the way black homeowners are taxed and schools in black communities are funded.

We make this argument as academics in school finance and education law who have studied racial inequalities in education for decades. We are proposing a four-part redress plan to tackle racial inequalities in education. The plan covers: 1) local property taxes, 2) school revenues, 3) targeted funding to close gaps in student achievement, and 4) federal oversight.

1. Tax Refunds for Black Homeowners

One of the main reasons for racial disparities in funding is segregation in housing. This separation led to big differences in the value of homes and the wealth that families were able to accumulate. This in turn affects the amount of funds that can be collected through property taxes for local public schools. In Connecticut, for example, black-owned homes are valued on average at around $ 250,000, compared to over $ 420,000 for white-owned homes. Even for homes in the same Connecticut metro areas with the same number of bedrooms, the difference is $ 173,000.

Since the overall value of black houses is lower, higher tax rates are often enacted to generate more local tax revenue. It takes the form of what we call a “black tax”. In Connecticut, the average black homeowner pays a black tax of just over 0.6% in higher property taxes. On a $ 250,000 house, that works out to $ 1,575 per year. But even with higher tax rates, black communities do not collect the same amount of property tax revenue to fund public schools as white communities in the same state or metropolitan area. The tax rates required to completely close these gaps would simply be too high. In a 2021 article, we documented similar disparities in other states, including Maryland and Virginia.

We recommend direct discounts to black owners in communities previously demarcated or otherwise separated from the amount calculated to cover the black tax. For example, the black tax in Bridgeport, Connecticut is just over 0.5%. For a home valued at $ 340,000, the annual rebate amount would be just over $ 1,800. These rebates would put money in the hands of black homeowners, who would then have the option of spending more on their local public schools or increasing their personal savings. Either way, we believe they are entitled to this compensation, including possible cumulative compensation for past overpayments.

2. Bridging the Racial Gap in School District Revenues

General state aid programs, which aim to ensure that all schools get equitable funding, regularly fail. In Connecticut, the average general state assistance per black child is $ 2,756 more than the average general state assistance per white child. This is because districts serving black children tend to have less of their own taxable wealth. That is, districts serving more black children receive more general state assistance than districts serving more white children, but not enough to close the $ 4,295 gap in income. premises collected. We have calculated that the remaining gap is $ 1,574 per student. Additional state support for school districts in black communities could close this gap.

3. Change the way race takes into account school aid formulas

Money is important for improving schools and student outcomes – from test scores to graduation rates and college attendance. School funding reforms have proven to be particularly beneficial for black students. The research is increasingly clear in this regard. Fair and adequate funding of public school systems is a necessary condition to ensure that children have equal opportunities to succeed.

Public school funding formulas include weights – or cost adjustments – for things like the number of children living in poverty or the number of children with disabilities. The idea is that these children need more money to get an education. Evidence and related studies show that because of government policies that have created racial isolation and the associated economic disadvantage, the racial makeup of schools and districts is an important factor to include in funding formulas for schools. public schools. But no state is currently doing it.

4. Eliminate racism in school funding formulas

Some state aid programs exacerbate racial disparities, and worse yet, some are built on the systemic racist policies that created them. Kansas, like many states, has strict income limits, or caps, on income that can be collected locally in order to maintain fairness. But a 2005 provision added to their school funding formula raised the cap to 16 districts with higher average housing values, based on the claim that those districts had to pay teachers more to live in their districts. . But this specific provision applied almost uniformly to predominantly white neighborhoods where most neighborhoods had racial restrictive covenants in previous decades.

The provision excluded neighboring neighborhoods where homes had been devalued by redlining because they were inhabited by black residents. These neighboring districts are also currently using their maximum taxing power.

We recommend federal audits of public school funding systems to identify features of these systems that exacerbate racial disparities and may in fact be based on systemic racial discrimination. Since states have so far been reluctant to lead these initiatives on their own, we believe they need federal encouragement. The adjustment to high priced home financing in Kansas provides one example, but there are others, including state assistance programs designed to reduce local property tax rates in suburban communities. easy.


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