Council on Anthropology and Education
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
School funding litigation has replaced school integration as the terrain on which battles to achieve racial equality in education are fought. Nationwide, Black and Latinx children attend schools that are vastly underfunded. These disparities are not simply economic. When comparing economically-similar districts, majority-White districts receive more funding than majority-Black and Latinx districts. Districts that serve the most students of color receive $1,800 less per pupil than majority-White districts. In a district of 5,000 students, that amounts to $9 million less each year. Race is central to the story of inequitable school funding. Since education shapes economic outcomes, funding disparities not only affect academic achievement, they create a race-based pipeline to poverty. Despite the fact that these racial disparities are known to advocates of fair funding, deploying race as a strategy is conspicuously absent from school funding cases today. Unlike Brown v. Board of Education, which successfully argued that segregation violated the equal protection clause because it discriminated based on race, few school funding lawsuits employ the race-based equal protection argument today. The court’s waning receptivity to the equal protection argument is due in large part to a shift in jurisprudence and the rise of colorblind and post-racial logics. This paper traces this shift in jurisprudence to explain why racial discrimination is rarely seen as a viable legal argument in school funding cases today. It also shows how lawyers and activists strategically deploy and sidestep discourses of racial discrimination in their efforts to advance racial justice in education.