A new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit organization that focuses on school funding issues, shows that America’s schools remain starkly segregated by race and economic status 65 years after the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.
The report identifies nearly 1,000 school district boundaries – including 30 in Indiana — that separate “advantaged” from “disadvantaged” school districts. In each case, the disadvantaged district has significantly more poor students and students of color but spends substantially less money.
Across the country, almost 9 million students attend schools on the losing side of those district lines.
“Their schools, when compared to those of their more affluent neighbors, are a glaring reminder that our education system remains divided by race and resources over half a century after the iconic Brown v. Board of Education ruling,” the EdBuild report concludes.
The report was issued on the 45th anniversary of another Supreme Court decision, Milliken v. Bradley, which ruled that school districts could not be required to desegregate across district borders. The decision facilitated white flight and locked in school segregation behind district boundaries.
The unequal Indiana districts identified in the report don’t include all the ones you might expect. Affluent districts in the suburbs north and west of Indianapolis, for example, have relatively few students of color and very few poor students. But their funding is comparable to that for neighboring higher-poverty districts, so they don’t make the cut for the EdBuild report.
For example, the suburban Carmel Clay school district has a child poverty rate of 2.4%, and fewer than 7% of its students are black or Hispanic. It adjoins Indianapolis Pike Township schools, where the child poverty rate is nearly 20% and more than 90% of students are nonwhite. But the two districts get essentially the same local, state and federal revenue per pupil, according to data used in the report.
Across the country, some of the least equitable school funding is in states that rely heavily on local property taxes to fund schools. In Indiana, the state provides most school funding, softening the impact of disparities in local wealth. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s fairer than what you find in some states.
Of the Indiana districts identified as “disadvantaged” compared to their neighbors, several are in mid-sized cities where population has been shrinking and school funding has declined. Those include:
- Anderson Community Schools, which has more poor students and students of color and receives less money than nearby Daleville, Frankton-Lapel and Shenandoah schools.
- Marion Community Schools, disadvantaged compared to the adjacent Eastbrook, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill districts.
- Richmond Community Schools, which is compared to Northeastern Wayne and Union County-College Corner schools.
Also identified in the report as disadvantaged are West Noble and North White schools, two rural districts that enroll many children of immigrants and are underfunded compared to their neighbors. Some 51.2% of students at West Noble and 42.1% at North White are Hispanic.
Despite the Milliken v. Bradley decision, Indianapolis became one of only three U.S. cities where school desegregation was ordered across district boundaries. U.S. District Judge S. Hugh Dillin ruled in 1978 that officials acted with “racially discriminatory intent” when they combined city and county governments but didn’t merge Indianapolis school districts. He ordered the busing of 6,000 black students from Indianapolis Public Schools to eight surrounding school districts. Busing lasted 35 years.
Today, about two-thirds of students in the Indianapolis school districts that surround IPS are non-white, and about two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. But cross the county line, into districts that were untouched by busing, and there are few poor students or students of color.