By: Tihanne Mar-Shall

Racial injustice has been embedded in the education system since its inception. The result of concentrated poverty and isolation involved in the minority experience has influenced many other areas of society, specifically education.

Housing redlining has had lingering effects on educational opportunities. In the 1930s, banks and the government engaged in lending and residential discrimination that conditioned access to federal home loans on the perceived wealth of the neighborhood. These decisions were also based, in part, on race. Governments and corporations played a role by diverting money and resources away from those minority areas. While a lot of time has passed, these policies have had a strong, lasting effect on education.

Economic and racial lines divide public school districts. The quality of a public school tends to increase in proportion with the Zip code’s income bracket. The creation of racialized spaces has specifically affected what children go to which schools, where teachers choose to work, and how successful schools are at educating our youth. Inconsistency in school quality continues because schools are unequivocally tied to housing.

Attendance zone boundaries determine public school access. These zones determine the geographic extent served by a local school. A recent study revealed that predominantly white school districts receive 23 billion more in funding than predominantly non-white school districts. More senior teachers tend to migrate toward affluent schools, furthering the detrimental impact on public schools in low-income areas. Teachers are less likely to consider working in schools in poverty-stricken areas and attempt to transfer out quickly. The lack of consistency in teaching staff may harm child-teacher relationships and the quality of the curriculum.

Education reform initiatives must come from state-level action. Unfortunately, equal access to public education is not a federally enumerated power of the government. A suggestion for states is to simply no longer maintain attendance zone boundaries. For example, Florida engages in an open enrollment policy, allowing students to enroll in any public school in the state. Florida’s legislature also requires all 67 of the school districts to participate in the program. Some other states have these policies but opting in is optional. While this solution, in theory, would allow equal access to all schools, it presents some logistical issues. It might be hard for children from low-income families to commute to a better school farther away. Families may maintain enrollment at the school closest to them for convenience. The best solution might be to uniform the quality of education in schools regardless of the location. Additionally, states need to get to the root of teacher burnout and turnover.

Ultimately, the poor quality of education in low-income areas correlates with the lasting effects of redlining and excluding minority citizens. As long as education reform fails to address the structure of the city environment, the school system will continue to fail certain groups of people. Those groups include lower-income communities and minorities who do not have the privilege of experiencing advantaged social environments. Thus, education reform is impossible without societal reform as well.

Tihanne graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a B.A. in Psychology and is currently a 3L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Within the topic of social justice, she has a strong interest in: issues affecting low income families, voter suppression, prison conditions, and abolishing the death penalty. Her personal interests include binge watching reality tv shows, weight training, and hot yoga.