The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding

We hear the mantra so often that we have stopped questioning it: A major cause of sub-par educational performance for African-American and Hispanic students is due to the fact that school districts where minority students predominate suffer from less funding than school districts where white students predominate.

But that so-called disparity is a myth, argues Jason Richwine with the Heritage Foundation in “The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding.” Actually, it’s the other way around: Whites receive the least funding of any racial group. African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians all fare better, although the gap is a small one.

Drawing upon two federal government data sets — the Secondary School Universe Survey for the 2006-2007 school year, which provides the racial and ethnic breakdown of schools across the nation, and the Financial Survey for the 2006-2007 school year — Richwine calculates an average expenditure per student broken down by racial classification . The figures account for cost-of-living differentials across the country.

The funding disparity disfavoring whites occurs nationally and in every region, although the gap is the smallest in the South. (The report provides no breakdown by state, so numbers for Virginia are not available.)

Richwine concedes that there may be a disparity in needs: Public school districts with larger percentages of poor or English-as-second-language students may require more resources than comparable white- or Asian-dominated districts. But that, he contends, is a very different argument than the one most commonly made.

Bacon’s bottom line: The study that adjusts dollars spent for the incidence of special needs (children from poor families, non-English speaking families, etc.) has yet to be written, as far as I know. It is an object worthy of study and debate. In the meantime, let’s stop pretending that white students benefit from more spending in their school districts than minorities do in theirs.

(Click on table for more legible image.)

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