School districts that lack affordable housing serve significantly more affluent populations compared with districts that have concentrated low-income housing, leading to inequities in educational funding, according to a recent report by nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners.
Both the drawing of district boundaries and location of accessible housing have led to a per-pupil funding disparity that averages $6,355 and affects 12.8 million students.
The disparities are directly related to differences in the property taxes that make up much of local district funding. The report thus recommends state legislatures consider relying less on local property taxes to determine school district funding.
When families do not have equal access to housing, they can’t have equal access to public school districts, the Bellwether report said. That’s because lower-priced housing means lower property taxes and therefore less ability to raise local revenue for schools.
About 20% of public school students attend their current school because their family moved to the neighborhood for that school, Bellwether said.
Lower-income families, meanwhile, are less likely to find accessible housing in wealthier school districts and are also more likely to rent rather than own their homes. The report found 55% of families with an annual income below $35,000 live in rental homes, compared with only about 20% of families with an annual income of $75,000 or higher.
Housing affordability is closely intertwined with school funding. Because local school revenue is often raised through property taxes, more affluent districts with inaccessible housing have more capacity to tax property wealth than do districts with concentrated low-income housing, Bellwether reported.
Bellwether found school districts with inaccessible housing have an average median household income of $108,184, almost double the $55,065 average household income for districts with concentrated low-income housing.
Alex Spurrier, associate partner at Bellwether and one of the report’s authors, said school administrators at the state and district levels need to have conversations about redrawing district borders. He added it’s important to examine whether current district borders are hurting or helping the students being served.
“There is a pretty stark difference in educational access between low-income families and families that have more means to access housing in different types of communities across the country,” Spurrier said. “It’s not just a product of school district boundaries or housing policy, but how they interact together to price certain families out of otherwise public school systems.”
This report came out just a month after the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, suggested schools could alleviate consistently racially segregated K-12 schools by adjusting attendance boundaries, even through small shifts.
Racially integrating a school division will also help improve equality related to staffing, academic programming, student discipline rates and student achievement, according to the institute’s report.
School segregation continues partially because student placement has been traditionally based on previously set boundaries and neighborhoods, which has been influenced by redlining, or the denial of home mortgages in and around Black communities, added the Urban Institute report.
The issue is further exacerbated by failures to reexamine the diversity of students’ racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status, according to Urban Institute.
While property tax is typically a stable form of local revenue, inequity comes into play as property values can vary widely, said Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, a partner at Bellwether and co-author of the report. State funding could be used as an alternative to address gaps created by varying local property taxes across districts, O’Neal Schiess added.
“My ideal, what I would love to see, is for local property tax to be taken out of the equation,” O’Neal Schiess said. “That would be a bold move for a lot of states.”