When neighborhoods break out of larger districts, the remaining schools suffer
- Six wealthier, white communities in Tennessee have taken advantage of a 2010 law to split away from Shelby County school district, which includes Memphis, and four more hope to follow their lead, a move which has significant financial implications for the remaining schools in the county, according to U.S. News and World Report.
- In the year since the six communities left Shelby County, the county’s budget was cut by 20%, with seven Memphis-area schools closing due to low enrollment and the district lost roughly 500 teachers in the previous two years. Tennessee is one of only three states where no county or state authority is needed to create a new school district.
- EdBuild, which recently released a report on the issue nationwide, found that 30 states allow communities to secede from school districts, with at least 47 communities doing so since 2000. EdBuild Founder Rebecca Sibilia said such actions were cordoning wealth in concentrated areas, keeping it from poorly funded schools in need.
The secession debate has mirrored the rise in power, status and revenue of parent teacher associations, which have tripled in size since the 1990s, and are far more vocal about where their money is being spent and where district lines are drawn. Wealthy communities are enhancing their schools with even more wealth and are pushing to ensure that wealth is not spread through the entire school district at the expense of their own local schools. Superintendents and other district leaders could work to ensure that there is collaboration and interaction with schools throughout the district, from inter-collegiate sports to other teams and meetings. Intertwining schools throughout the district, despite income disparities, could help to ensure stronger bonds between parents and students, making secession unlikely; stronger bonds could also make it more difficult for those wealthier communities to extricate themselves.
If the majority of a district’s funding comes from property tax revenue, you will always have gaps between the haves and have nots, in terms of school quality. This is one such disparity which states like Maryland, which seeks to compensate for low local funding by increasing state funding to those districts, has sought to address. However, as Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University notes, funding can still be inequitable, even within districts. Beyond the actual appropriations, individual schools may see disparities because of the efforts of parent organizations which may solicit more grants and private donations. Higher-income parents have the time and ability to fundraise additional revenue for their individual schools, an opportunity low-income parents may not enjoy.
- U.S. News and World Report White, Wealthy Communities Want Their Own Schools