Let Them Eat Cake: Racism and Public School Finance

As if public schools throughout the country do not have it bad enough, the economically upper crust have shed their demands to the masses in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, home of Louisiana State University. They effectively want out ! Specifically, the citizens of the upper middle and wealthy neighborhoods within the area are demanding not only their own town, but also a separation from the 42,000-pupil public education school system. This happens to be a system where “4 out of 10 families live in poverty.” If approved, the well to do will form their own public school district that is funded by property taxes collected from their sky-scraping valued homes. This shift would remove money from those economically poor children left to their own isolated devices within schools with already economic challenges. For those remaining, it has been estimated the move would decrease their total per-pupil spending from $9,635 to $ 8,870. The new and mostly all white school system would instead spend approximately $11,686 per-pupil.

Following the end of recent court-ordered desegregation judgments, citizens in states such as Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia have made similar efforts. These efforts were quoted as possibly having demoralizing effects on those occupying space on the outside of the golden circle of privilege. All of which is a result of a current public school apportionment system that relies heavy on local taxes to fund public education efforts.

The initiative to break away from school systems can be explained with oodles of meaningful terms within a contextual and complex landscape. And on the surface, they seem quite innocent and valid. For time sake, their argument can be summed up as, “We have failing schools blah, blah, we want to provide something better for our kids, blah, blah, and it’s not a racial matter, blah, blah.” But with the use of a critical white racial lens, one is able to see a rationale more depressing than that which is openly presented.

William Dean Howells, the great 19th century American social observer argued, “Inequality is as dear to the American heart as liberty itself.” I feel that nowhere is this more evident than in one of the country’s oldest institutions—public education. Albert Memmi stated that all systems in the U.S. had been designed to only benefit the ruling elite, while simultaneously denying those occupying the lower levels of the economic stratus and White constructed racial hierarchy.

In terms of education, many forget, or pretend to forget, our countries founding forefather, as well as those of education, not only viewed it as an intricate component needed to drive the succession and advancement of the U.S., but also a social tool to help maintain a dominant White Protestant culture. In its infancy, education was used to halt the possibilities of the influx of immigrants and newly freed Blacks from acquiring bona fide access to power and privilege. Therefore, the racial and cultural superiority over newly introduced racial groups such as Irish, Blacks, and Native Americans was reinforced within public education. This conscious need to ignore the needs of those seen as nonwhite was evident within their following historic treatment. Within U.S. history, many tactics have been utilized to deny Blacks from an adequate education. They consist of denying slaves opportunities, controlling curriculum and intent of post-antebellum schools (ex. Black colleges), to the means of legal segregation. School finance is simply an issue that many are unaware of as it relates to systemic oppression.

Legislative measures resulting from cases such as Brown v. Board of Education Topeka (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have attempted to eliminate many of the past overt oppressive and discriminatory measures witnessed historically in education. Today in public education, there still exists a divided two raced “world” that is maintained by an inequitable school funding system. The monetary disparity between wealthy and poor school (i.e., Have v. Have Nots) consist racially of mainly people of color and upper middle to wealthy Whites. The Texas Civil Rights Project in 2012 reported that within Austin Independent School District (AISD), inequitable funding was allowed. Further, “AISD was shown to allow and support the private subsidization of higher-income (or “higher-equity”) schools, sometimes by as much as $1,000/student more than the amount of funds that support students in lower-income (or “lower-equity”) schools.”

Thus, funds that should be provided to low SES schools are not happening. In California’s Orange County, Laguna Beach Unified in 2002 spent $7,411 per student in comparisons to Orange Unified, which spent $5, 632 per pupil. In addition to wealthy property and local taxes, many wealthy areas are able to provide private donations that play a significant role in district funding. This difference in available funding can allow for richer districts to pay for specialists, more teachers, and services for students, specifically special education students in need. Many of the schools funded by property and local taxes in poor areas are unable to keep pace.

This mode of financial targeting is nothing new to America. For instance, during post antebellum, many of the Black schools did not receive equal resources and funding. Through the use of historical data, it has been proven that race definitely influenced public school funding. In fact, funds were actually diverted from Black school to their counterparts.

The dynamics of race in conjunction with the current state of school financing will continue to hinder the academic and progress of Black students in public education if allowed uninterrupted. But this hindrance is nothing new to America. Hence, its foundation of governance and citizenship operate in a fashion that empowers Whites while maintaining a social hierarchy that targets people of color. The current financial disparity in school funding will continue until a new approach to the issue is taken within the judicial system. Or until we decide to no longer eat cake.