But… But… The Narrative!

Funding disparities between 75%+ white and 75%+ minority school districts by state. Source: Edbuild

While it may be true nationally that predominantly white school districts spend more money than predominantly black school districts, that’s not the case in Virginia, reports Radio IQ. In Virginia, districts that serve mostly black students spend about $200 more per student on average.

That data is based on a report by Edbuild, an organization that studies school funding. “It’s somewhat challenging to put together a simple narrative for Virginia because it doesn’t necessarily follow easy and simple trends,” says Matt Richmond with Edbuild, Writes Radio IQ:

One possible reason Virginia looks different than the rest of the country could be because the state has relatively large, county-based, school districts. That’s actually one of EdBuild’s policy suggestions for states aiming to increase equity in education funding.

I am not conversant with how other states organize their schools. But apparently counties outside Virginia often include cities and towns, each with their own school district. Edbuild contends that district boundaries are frequently gerrymandered to protect the interests of more affluent (mostly white) residents. I cannot say if this is a fair critique or not. But in Virginia’s distinct and often maligned system of local government, counties and cities are distinct, not overlapping, municipal entities. Furthermore, for the past 40 years or so, cities have lost the right to annex territory from neighboring counties. Local politicos have no ability to gerrymander school district lines.

But that is a partial explanation at best.

Breaking down Edbuild’s calculations by state, one sees that Southern states either have small white/minority school district funding disparities or disparities favoring minority districts. In other words, the states most commonly associated in the liberal mind with racism and bigotry tend to spend more on average on black students than whites. This is not just a Virginia phenomenon, it is a Southern phenomenon.

The biggest disparities favoring whites exist in the Plains states and Western states, which tend to have small African-American populations, while significant disparities exist in Northeastern states, which have significant African-American populations. Midwestern states have the most balanced spending numbers.

So, how do those patterns fit The Racial Oppression Narrative?

Answer: It doesn’t.

Of course, there’s one disparity that studies such as Edbuild’s never address: Who is paying the tax dollars to support the schools? In Virginia, the Commonwealth funnels General Fund revenues into local school districts according to a formula that is explicitly designed to redistribute funds from affluent school districts to poor school districts. How big are those wealth transfers? Are there racial disparities in how much residents of different localities pay in taxes and get back in return? I have never seen anyone try to calculate that statistic. Why? Because the documenting the wealth transfer in educational funding from predominantly white to predominantly minority school districts would undermine The Narrative.

There’s another angle I never see liberal nonprofits and think tank talk about: the relationship between school discipline and middle-class flight to better schools. Despite broad cultural trends toward self-indulgence and entitlement, America’s middle class still puts a premium on well-ordered schools. They don’t want their children to be bullied in the hallways. They don’t appreciate it when a handful of students disrupt the classroom and prevent their children from learning. This is not a white thing. This is a middle-class thing, and many minority families share the same perspective.

Here’s a series of predictions: (1) As Social Justice values are imposed on Virginia schools for the purpose of reducing racial disparities in punishments, classroom discipline will continue to erode, especially in schools where the student bodies are dominated by poor African-American students who come disproportionately from dysfunctional social backgrounds; (2) as classroom discipline erodes, the resulting disorder will be reflected in a continued stagnation of, or outright decline in, Standards of Learning test scores; (3) both white and black families with the means to do so will vote with their feet by moving to school districts with fewer disciplinary issues and higher test scores; (4) liberal academics and social engineers will lament the persistent trend toward segregated schools and blame it on institutional racism rather than bad policy.

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6 responses to “But… But… The Narrative!

  1. When reading this, I recalled a talk featuring Jason Kamras, Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools. I gather Kamras believes race influences but does not fully explain society’s/ policy maker’s willingness to support public education. These are some of his points, as I recall them: 1) Kamras suggests societal tolerance for broken toilets in RPS’s predominately African American schools, and such tolerance would not exist for Short Pump schools. More here: https://bit.ly/2HiuafY 2) Some districts with a high proportion of racial minority students also have a higher proportion of students with high needs (i.e. special education, academic gaps etc.) It is necessary, and in some cases legally mandated, to spend more per pupil, sometimes much more. 3) Some schools in wealthier areas benefit from 100k+ annual PTA / non-government support and this support warrants consideration 4) School districts and schools are often the best units of analysis so that population nuances can be better considered. I am not prepared to take a position, but include this in the spirit of alternate “narrative.” I welcome others’ take.

    • Hi, policy student, thanks for weighing in.

      It is true that racial minorities (particularly African-Americans) have a higher rate of disabilities, and students with disabilities are more expensive to educate, and that should be taken into account. But the issue here is disabilities, not race. But The Narrative is all about race.

      However, I take exception to the implication that “social tolerance” might differ for broken toilets in Henrico schools and Richmond schools. Did “society” tolerate broken toilets in RPS schools? I would say not. Richmond news media ran frequent articles highlighting the problems. Alternatively, could students and parents, accustomed to sub-standard housing, tolerate broken school fixtures more than middle-class citizens would have? Or, yet again, did indifferent school administrators tolerate these conditions by allocating school resources to initiatives like brand, new shiny schools, that would generate headlines? Kamras needs to be more specific about exactly whom he thinks is tolerating what.

      • Race has got nothing to do with why a city that can’t fix its potholed streets, and/or its broken school toilets. Nor does race got anything to do with who’s adults and/or children got higher rates of disabilities or special needs, either.

  2. Makes sense to me. Poor kids often go to schools that get Title 1 assistance from the federal government. The Commonwealth of Virginia adds its own funding for these students and schools. Some districts, such as Fairfax County, add additional local tax money for low-income students. To the extent low-income students are from minority groups, including black students, they receive extra funding. So if the data show Virginia schools on average spend more money per student in schools with larger proportions of black students, it makes sense.

    If Richmond Schools aren’t engaged in basic maintenance, hold elected officials accountable irrespective of their race or ethnic background.

    But to keep their bloated staffs many public schools, including Fairfax County, regularly skimp on maintenance. For several years, Longfellow Middle School that serves McLean and Falls Church students had no hot water in their restrooms. I know; I used them. But heaven forbid schools eliminate administrative positions or don’t increase the pay for positions with little turnover.

  3. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: What Funding Gap? – CrankysBlog

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