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Why School Segregation Matters

The vast majority of American students attend a local public school. This means where a student lives determines where most students go to school. But not all communities have equal access to high-quality schools. The enduring effects of housing and school segregation still have profound consequences for students, especially for students of color.

Persistent school segregation is rooted in both racist housing policy and practice, as well as historic and ongoing decisionmaking that determines school attendance zones. These policies and institutional practices systematically denied people of color access to opportunity-rich neighborhoods. According to the Urban Institute, residential segregation accounts for approximately 76 percent of school segregation in metropolitan areas.

The following research shows how reducing housing segregation can improve educational and life outcomes for all students, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools
  • On average, a white person lives in a neighborhood where the population is 75 percent white and 8 percent Black, but a typical Black person lives in a neighborhood with a 45 percent Black and 35 percent white population.
  • A study of seven counties in the South found that in 2000, segregation between school districts accounted for 60 percent of Black-white school segregation and 37 percent of Latinx-white school segregation. By 2015, these proportion had increased to 70 percent and 65 percent.
  • Segregation between districts accounts for two-thirds of total public school segregation.
  • This study found that the creation and expansion of suburbs, suburban school districts, and magnet schools perpetuate school segregation. 
  • Evidence shows the creation of new, smaller districts, which are often wealthy and predominately white, increase racial and ethnic inequality between districts. 
School segregation’s effects on spending and funding  
  • Research shows increased segregation between districts is linked to greater disparities in school revenue between predominantly Black and predominantly white school districts because of disparities in local revenues.
  • Between-district segregation is associated with racial and ethnic disparities in school district spending. 
  • School revenues determine spending on vital school resources, which, in turn, influence students’ opportunities.
  • When Black-white segregation increases in a state over time, the average Black student’s district experiences a relative decline in total per student spending and spending on infrastructure, relative to the average white student’s district.
  • This report finds some attendance zones amplify racial segregation in schools and perpetuate educational inequality and unequal access to resources between Black and Latinx students and white peers. 
Inequality in spending affects access to educational opportunities 

The evidence suggests that policymakers at all levels who wish to decrease segregation between school districts should review and consider redrawing school boundaries to guarantee all students have equal access to well-resourced schools. They can also consider strategies to increase affordable housing in opportunity-rich neighborhoods to increase access to quality schools.