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Disparities in Education: How the History of Redlining Has Created a Gap in School Funding

Natalia Arruda

Across America, public schools are increasingly underfunded. In 2021, the deficit was around 85 billion dollars per year—an issue that primarily affects areas with a high population of minority groups.

This problem is strongly associated with the practice of “redlining”. Redlining was a system of color-coding certain areas in cities according to how “safe” it was to invest in them. Neighborhoods marked green would signify a safer option for investing in housing, and the ones marked red were riskier investments. Neighborhoods with more minority groups tended to be marked red, resulting in housing segregation based on racial biases. Although these color-coded maps were created during the late 1930s, 74% of formerly redlined areas in recent times are considered to be low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.

Unequal distribution of housing investments affects how much property tax a certain area will accumulate. This becomes relevant to education since public school funding is partially dependent on these property taxes. Consequently, students in areas with a history of redlining, such as predominantly minority neighborhoods, tend to go to underfunded schools. Indeed, in 58 of the 100 largest cities, about 75% of non-white students go to schools with a majority student population of low-income students. 

The funding gap is especially visible in school buildings. CBS has reported that one older school in Baltimore “feature[d] rotting and collapsed floors, holes in ceiling tiles, computers from the 1990s, and blackboards from the 1960s”. Air conditioning is also vital. Heat causes extreme discomfort for students, who struggle to concentrate at higher temperatures, and has been found to be detrimental to learning. This is evident in exam scores, as students learning in hot classrooms in the lead-up to an exam tend to get lower scores than students learning in cooler classrooms. Studies show temperature can account for 3–7% of the gap in PSAT scores between Black and Hispanic students, and White students. Aside from learning, heat can affect students’ health directly, especially for students with asthma. 

Although there are efforts to change funding systems so there is a more equitable distribution of funds—as in Maryland, where there is a plan to shift more of school funding to the state and distribute those funds to less affluent districts—much progress still needs to be made to improve learning conditions in these schools and properly remedy the disparity in funding. 


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