Prosperity Watch Issue 51, No. 5: Economic segregation in schools has impact on education opportunity for children

For poor, minority families and students, economic segregation serves as a formidable barrier to opportunity. An interactive map produced by EdBuild, a national nonprofit that focuses on public education, highlights the stark economic segregation that exists among public schools across the country.

EdBuild’s assessment of more than 13,000 school districts and respective poverty rates across the U.S. shows huge disparities in income levels among school districts. In many cases, school districts with dramatically different income levels are next-door neighbors, or even reside within one another.

In the U.S., the public school a student attends is typically determined by where their family lives, EdBuild notes. Furthermore, a significant share of funding for public schools comes from local funding sources – particularly property taxes. Accordingly, disparities in local economic wealth between affluent and distressed communities impact the level of resources available for local communities to invest in their public schools.

Following a national trend, North Carolina has high levels of economic segregation across the state. A large number of the state’s school districts – around 40 school districts – have student poverty rates of 30 percent or higher, based on EdBuild’s analysis. Six schools districts have student poverty rates of more than 40 percent: Thomasville City Schools (51.4%); Lexington City Schools (47.2%); Weldon City Schools (47.1%); Halifax County Schools (42.2); Robeson County Schools (40.8); and Scotland County Schools (40.1%).


Economic segregation among school districts in North Carolina, and nationally, aligns with other data regarding the economic security of families. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 Kids Count report highlights the state of child well-being. For North Carolina, one in four children lives in poverty, the 11th highest child poverty rate in the country. One in three children lives in a family where the parent lacks secure employment and one in three children lives in a family that struggles to afford the cost of housing. Overall, North Carolina ranks 35th among states for child well-being.

In recent years, state lawmakers have passed tax changes that reduced and eliminated state funding to local governments and that limited their authority and ability to raise revenue from local sources. These state-level actions heighten the challenge faced by local communities to ensure adequate funding is available for public schools and other public services.

Ensuring that all North Carolina children are afforded a high-quality education require strong state level support. As EdBuild highlights, the varying levels of economic health among local communities creates different outcomes in local communities. Amid state-level policy changes in recent years, some local governments have been able to using their local taxing authority and pass referenda that increase revenue to adequately fund their public schools, early childhood programs, transit initiatives and other infrastructure. Other local governments, however, are less positioned to raise local revenue for such purposes due to their limited tax base. Consequently disparities in opportunity result and widen over time. Accordingly, a financing model that ensures all public schools are adequately funded regardless of where they are located in the state would address the existing economic segregation reality and promote healthy, safe, and thriving local communities.

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