Public Education: Funding based Upon Race
Education…beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery. I do not here mean that it so elevates the moral nature as to make men disdain and abhor the oppression of their fellow men…But I mean that it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich: it prevents being poor. –Horace Mann, 1848
Public education in the United States is exalted as the “great equalizer.” This utopian concept would be true if the education provided to all citizens was equal. Unfortunately, the dueling principles upon which the American nation was founded— freedom to accumulate wealth and equality for all—inhibit the establishment and maintenance of equal education. Funding inequities within the United States public education system embody the tension between one’s right to accumulate capital and one’s duty to guarantee equality for all. As the current system stands, the right to accumulate and utilize financial resources prevails. Thus, an educational system that perpetuates the economic inequality of America’s racial groups endures.
In the 1954 United States Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, school segregation was found to be unconstitutional. On behalf of the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The reasoning behind the unanimous decision diverged from the line of argumentation that had been used by civil rights lawyers in previous cases regarding school desegregation. The focus of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was not the inequality of resources in segregated schools because, according to the Court, “the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other tangible factors.” Instead, the Court focused on the psychological effects of segregation.
To separate [Black students] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
In a subsequent hearing, the Court demanded that schools across the nation adhere to its ruling by desegregating schools with “all deliberate speed.” The ambiguity of this phrase provided a loophole that allowed many districts to stall desegregation for several years and continue to operate in a way that fostered inequality between the races.
Today—nearly fifty years after the Brown decision—explicit endorsements of school segregation have been erased from all state and federal laws, yet the faces of American...