EDUCATION INEQUITY IS A major challenge for many schools across the U.S., rooted in a complex system of racial inequality and ongoing segregation that is actually increasing in many parts of the country, according to John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust, a nonprofit education advocacy group.
King, who served as secretary of education during the Obama administration, spoke with U.S. News Senior Education Writer Lauren Camera for the inaugural session of “The Racial Divide,” a new series from U.S. News & World Report that examines inequality and how people of color are affected in areas such as health care, education, the criminal justice system and the workplace. The ongoing series will feature discussions with some of the leading voices who are championing diversity and spotlighting ways to drive change.
“We’re actually seeing increased segregation in parts of the country for a variety of reasons,” King says. “Some related to housing policy, some related to school assignment policy, some related to the reality that in some districts you have affluent white families seceding from the school district in order to separate their kids from the rest of the community.”
King also asserts that inequality is driven in part by students of color having less access to quality education and resources compared to their white peers. He points to a 2018 Education Trust report that revealed school districts serving mostly students of color received $1,800, or 13%, less per student from state and local governments than districts serving mostly white, affluent students.
The gap in funding is fueled by how many school districts track along lines of race and class, King says. He cites Long Island in New York, an area with roughly 120 school districts, as one example of how these lines can exacerbate disparities in education.
“Those districts really represent neighborhoods of socioeconomic status, and so the school district spending can vary tremendously within blocks,” King tells U.S. News. “You can cross the street and see a difference in spending of a thousand, two thousand, three, four, five, six, seven, eight thousand dollars per student.”
King notes one vital player in helping to close the equity gap: Congress. If federal lawmakers boost stimulus funding for school districts, especially those that have seen significant budget cuts and are unable to make up the difference through property taxes, that could go a long way to helping to achieve equity.
In many cases, “resource inequity translates into opportunity gaps that produce achievement gaps,” King says. “If we change how we organize the funding of schools, we could tackle this resource equity problem.”
King acknowledges that, during the coronavirus pandemic, gaps in education are being further exposed and widened due to a lack of internet and technology access. Adding to these issues is the difficulty parents face supervising their children at home. King notes that only about 1 in 5 African Americans in the workforce – and only 1 in 6 Latino individuals – can work from home.
Despite the many challenges, King points out pockets of progress being made around the country, such as improved socioeconomic integration in San Antonio public schools and the adoption of The New York Times’ African American history initiative “The 1619 Project” into Chicago public high school curriculums.
“There are lots of reasons to be hopeful,” King says.