In contrast to European and Asian nations, which fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest US school districts spend nearly ten times more than the poorest, and spending ratios of three to one are common within states.
These disparities reinforce the wide inequalities in income among families, with the most resources being spent on children from the wealthiest communities and the fewest on the children of the poor, especially in high-minority communities. This reality creates the disparities in educational outcomes that plague the United States and ultimately weaken the nation.
From the time southern states made it illegal to teach an enslaved person to read, throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, African Americans, Native Americans, and, frequently, Mexican Americans faced de facto and de jure exclusion from public schools throughout the nation and experienced much lower quality education.
These disparities have continued. In 1991, Jonathan Kozel’s Savage Inequalities described the stark differences between segregated urban schools and their suburban counterparts, which generally spent twice as much: places like Goudy Elementary School, which served an African American student population in Chicago, using “15-year-old textbooks in which Richard Nixon is still president” and “no science labs, no art or music teachers… [and] two working bathrooms for some 700 children,” in contrast with schools in the neighboring town of New Trier (more than 98 percent white), where students had access to “superior labs… up-to-date technology… seven gyms [and] an Olympic pool.”
More than a decade later, school spending in New Trier, at nearly $15,000 per student, still far exceeded the $8,500 per student available in Chicago for a population with many more special needs. Nationwide, many cities spend only half of what their wealthier suburbs can spend.
Educational Quality and Equality
in Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality