When zoning laws were combined with an America still struggling with racism, one of the first things to be affected was equal right to education. Zoning laws specifically enacted to segregate and legalize housing in-equality, produced the education in-equality that haunts us as a nation to this day.
The system of local property taxes as the main source of funding for public schools plays a major role in school system inequality. As NPR states in this 2016 article on public school funding inequality,
“In the U.S., school funding comes from a combination of three sources. The balance varies from state to state but, on average, looks like this: 45 percent local money, 45 percent from the state and 10 percent federal.”
In this kind of system of funding, combined with institutionalized racism in federal housing policy, education inequality becomes a government sponsored reality. Sadly, this policy effects the most vulnerable and innocent of our population, our children. Furthermore, it’s not just school districts that go under-funded in low property value areas. It’s also the police precincts, the streets and sanitation, and other public services that are split up by the same or similar boundaries (as school districts). For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on education inequality, because of how it perpetuates poverty.
The lack of pre-K opportunity for less wealthy children is a direct consequence of poorly funded school districts. It is a whole other topic that you can read about in Ajay Chaudry’s book, “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality.” Without reading the book, you can get a gist for how awful the US is at providing education for pre-K kids via the below graphic from the Washington Post. You can find the accompanying article here.
If it’s this bad in general, you can imagine it’s worse, again, in areas served by poor and underfunded school districts.
Let’s turn the discussion back to public school education. School integration (as a result of Brown v. Board) has proven to be the most effective way to elevate the performance of poor, minority students to the level of their white counterparts. In a summary piece by Linda Gorman of a Rucker Johnson research paper put out by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Linda explains that the effects of desegregation are significant in that they increase work effort[hours worked], hourly earnings, and consequently, alleviate poverty:
“Rucker[author] estimates that each additional year of exposure to desegregated schools increased black mens annual earnings by roughly 5 percent, increased their wages by 2.9 percent, and led to an annual work effort that was 39 hours higher. At the same time, for these black male adults the probability of poverty decreased by between 1.6 and 1.9 percentage points. Overall, five years spent in desegregated schools yielded an estimated 25 percent increase in annual earnings and increased annual work effort of 195 hours. Desegregation also resulted in significant long-run improvements in blacks’ adult health, as measured by self-assessed general health status; the effect of a five-year exposure to school desegregation is equivalent to being seven years younger.”
In the research paper by Rucker, he notes that desegregation led to an increase in spending per child on education. Some of this spending can be attributed to federal money pouring in to provide incentive for schools to desegregate. But even more astounding, Rucker notes that even where spending per child did not increase when a school district was desegregated, it did not diminish the long term gains seen in African American adults as a result of desegregation. Desegregation alone, that simple act, was enough to yield benefits to black students, without accompanying spending increase:
“By the fourth year after a desegregation order, average annual per-pupil spending in the affected districts had increased by an average of $1,000 from a 1967 baseline of $2,738. Rucker notes that “there was suggestive evidence that reductions in school segregation levels that were not accompanied by significant changes in school resources did not have appreciable long-run impacts on blacks’ adult attainments.”
The above is evidence that there was slack in high performing segregated school systems, meaning they were able, and willing, to accommodate under-performing students as is, without additional resources.