Home > Uncategorized > Money Doesn’t Matter? This Article Underscores How Poor Funding for Public Education Adds to Racial Inequality

Money Doesn’t Matter? This Article Underscores How Poor Funding for Public Education Adds to Racial Inequality

February 19, 2021

One of the most maddening arguments I read about is how money doesn’t matter when it comes to schooling… year as this Vox article by Anna North illustrates, money DOES matter, especially the money needed to upgrade school facilities and provide the necessities for classroom instruction. Here’s the description of the Bronx High school Leanne Nunes attended: 

The walls at the high school Leanne Nunes attended in the Bronx were painted a color she likes to call “penitentiary beige.”

The cafeteria, located in the basement, had no windows. About half of her classrooms didn’t have windows, either. “It felt kind of jail-like,” Nunes, now a first-year student at Howard University, told Vox. “It felt like the building itself was trying to keep you in.”

And the lack of resources went beyond the physical space. Laptops for students were often old or broken. Students struggled to get access to the classes they wanted. For example, the school could only afford to offer art or music in a single year, not both. “You’d have to pick,” Nunes said, “and by ‘you’d have to pick,’ I mean the school made the decision for you.”

Looking back, she said, “there were a lot of opportunities where I think young people could have been learning or engaging with content better, but they didn’t really have the chance to.”

I doubt that any suburban district that borders the Bronx has a windowless cafeteria, windowless classrooms, outdated laptops, or forced choices between art and music. And lest you think this is a NYC problem, here’s some news for you:

Nationwide, majority-nonwhite districts get $23 billion less in funding every year than majority-white districts, despite having the same number of students. That gap translates to a lower-quality education for many Black students and other students of color — which, in turn, perpetuates and widens America’s racial inequities. “All of the implications of not being able to get an education — these are linked to people’s ability to support themselves, to support their families, to have healthy communities,” Verna Williams, the dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, who has studied reparations for educational segregation, told Vox.

To emphasize the scale of that disparity, let me write it differently: majority white districts get $23,000,000,000 more EVERY YEAR than majority black districts. If we ever hope to provide an equal opportunity for students of color and students raised in poverty, we cannot continue what we are doing now. And one thing we need to do in addition to providing more funding for schools serving minority students is to have a national attitude adjustment. 

“The idea that there’s good schools and bad schools and that is determined by the students within them is harmful and not true,” Nunes, now the executive college director at the educational equity organization IntegrateNYC, told Vox. “There are no good schools and bad schools. There’s schools that currently have and historically have had what they need to succeed, and schools that don’t.

If 20 years of standardized tests haven’t proven Ms. Nunes’ point about this, we have no hope of ever learning from our experience.  And we should also be disabused of the notion that money doesn’t matter, In addition to the deplorable conditions of schools in minority neighborhoods and communities, there is an equally deplorable lack of human resources: 

Less money means, quite simply, less of everything for Black students and the schools they attend. That includes fewer experienced teachers: Schools with high percentages of Black and Latinx students have nearly twice as many first-year teachers as schools with low Black and Latinx enrollment, according to the New York Times.

It includes professionals like school nurses and counselors — in one recent survey, Black students were less likely than white students to say they could reach out to a teacher or counselor at school if they needed help with a mental health issue. And it includes electives, advanced classes, and other features of a well-rounded curriculum; for example, just a third of schools with high Black and Latinx enrollment offer calculus, according to the Times. “So many resources that we see in wealthy schools are a product of the fact that those schools are in wealthy districts,” Boddie told Vox.

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly ten years and I have written variations of this post for that entire time… probably 20-25 times per year. These paragraphs offer some ways this COULD be addressed at the federal level: 

It’s past time for policymakers at the highest levels of government to send another message, advocates say: that all children deserve a safe, high-quality education. One way to send that message loud and clear is with money.

The federal government can help equalize school funding by giving grants to underfunded schools, Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progres said. One proposal developed by the Center for American Progress, called Public Education Opportunity Grants, would have the government provide about $63 billion per year — enough for about $12,000 per student — to the 25 percent of districts with the highest poverty rate in each state. States with fewer resources overall, as measured by gross state product, would get extra money to help equalize funding across states.

School districts would be required to use the money specifically to improve access to education for historically underserved groups, including Black or Indigenous students and other students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. And they’d be required to set improvement targets for student outcomes and resource equity, and report on their progress toward meeting them. For students attending the most impoverished schools, it’s crucial to “account for all the ways their communities have been impacted so that those schools aren’t suffering because of the tax base,” Harris said.

The Vox article understands that this problem cannot be solved solely at the federal level, and acknowledges that the Federal fix is far easier to achieve than the state and local one. 

While grants from the federal government can begin to remedy some of the inequities of school funding in America, to finish the job, states and local districts will need to change the way they allocate funds — moving away from formulas based on property tax that perpetuate the harms of housing segregation.

This is, in many ways, a harder problem than distributing federal funding, because it requires change from countless state and local governments all around the country. In every state, “you’re going to have a different set of dynamics, you’re going to have a different set of players,” Walker said. Some of those players are wealthy parents who are sure to push back against efforts to alter a system that benefits them — “people who buy big, expensive houses and that’s one of the ways they invest in their schools,” as Walker puts it.

The article concludes with these two paragraphs… underscoring the soul searching that will be required to provide equity… should searching that could begin in an anodyne fashion by examining the metrics we currently use, for if standardized test scores are the ultimate metric, we will continue to buy into the current paradigm that there are “Good Schools” and “Bad Schools”… and forget Leanne Nunes’ cogent observation: “There are no good schools and bad schools. There’s schools that currently have and historically have had what they need to succeed, and schools that don’t.

Educational equity will require not just money but a deep examination of how Americans view young people, and how the country measures value and success, Nunes said. “Asking these questions of ourselves and each other and having these conversations is something that needs to happen,” she said.

“We can’t couch racial justice issues only in criminal justice and housing, or helping people to be entrepreneurs,” Harris said. “Education undergirds every part of our lives in this country.”

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