The Influence of Race in School Finance Reform

It would be an exaggeration to say that school finance reform is all about race, but largely in the same way that it is an exaggeration to say that welfare reform is all about race. Like welfare reform, the controversy generated by school finance litigation and reform has, on the surface, little to do with race. Battles over school funding, which have been waged in nearly forty state supreme courts and at least as many state legislatures, instead appear to be over such issues as the redistribution of resources, retaining local control over education, and the efficacy of increased expenditures. But just as race seems to be an influential undercurrent in welfare policy and debate, so too does it appear to influence school finance litigation and reform. Whereas the role of race in welfare reform has been well canvassed, the influence of race in school finance litigation and reform is virtually unexamined. Indeed, the only direct evidence bearing on the topic consists of two studies of popular attitudes toward school finance reform, one conducted by Professor Douglas Reed in New Jersey and the other by Professor Kent Tedin in Texas. Both New Jersey and Texas have witnessed long court battles over school finance. The Reed and Tedin studies indicated that white citizens in both states inaccurately perceived school finance reform as primarily benefiting blacks. Reed’s study also indicated that nonwhites tended to support school finance reform more than whites, and Tedin’s study revealed that the level of support among whites depended as much upon racial attitudes as it did upon self-interest – e.g., some whites whose school districts stood to gain from school finance reform opposed such reform for reasons apparently having to do with their attitudes toward blacks.