How Does Past Redlining Affect Present-Day Disparities in Educational Outcomes?

The Lingering Legacy of Redlining on School Funding, Diversity, and Performance
Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland
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Starting in 1935, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) began ranking neighborhoods around the US based on a calculation of loan risk that explicitly associated white populations with low risk and Black populations with high risk. HOLC graded areas from A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous). They color-coded these grades onto maps that banks and lenders used to inform their decisions about whether a given mortgage loan should be approved or denied, a process termed “redlining.” Given the explicitly racism of these grades, D graded—or red—ratings were often neighborhoods with more Black or other residents of color, which resulted in disparities in opportunities for homeownership and historic underinvestment.

This study examines how the HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school funding, diversity, and performance. To link the historic HOLC maps to the current educational system, the authors mapped 144 HOLC-graded neighborhoods to present-day school and district boundaries. For individual schools, they assigned HOLC A–D grades based on the overlap of the school’s location and the historic HOLC A–D graded area. For districts, they determined HOLC A–D mappings using the area, in square miles, of HOLC A–D polygons that overlap with each respective district boundary.

The authors then used these mapping areas to analyze different relationships between the HOLC maps and current school funding, test scores, and demographics. They analyzed school funding data from Georgetown’s National Education Resource Database on Schools along with demographic data from the National Center for Education Statistics and school performance data from the Stanford Education Data Archive.

Key findings
  • Present-day school districts located in predominately D neighborhoods have less district-level per pupil funding, but generally higher per pupil federal and state funding. However, those districts still have lower overall per pupil funding than districts mapped to higher HOLC ratings.
  • At the school level, those schools mapped to D ratings have higher average per pupil funding than those schools mapped to A, B, or C ratings.
  • Schools mapped to HOLC D grades have the highest shares of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch, making them eligible for Title I funding, the largest federal funding program for US public schools. This could explain why D schools have the most school-level per pupil funding of all HOLC A–D mapped schools.
  • Schools located in historically D-rated neighborhoods have larger present-day school-level shares of student bodies with primarily students of color and more segregated student populations than schools in higher-rated HOLC areas.
  • Schools located in historically HOLC D areas have worse school-level average math and reading scores than their more highly rated A, B, and C peers, nationally and regionally.
  • However, there are virtually no differences in average student learning and test score changes between HOLC A–D graded schools nationwide and regionally.
Policy implications
  • State and federal funding programs could be used by school administrators to address local funding shortfalls for districts located in primarily D-graded neighborhoods.
  • School districts should try to address the existing gap in education opportunities between HOLC A–D schools, even given that average learning rates between HOLC A–D schools were not significantly different.
  • Education policymakers should consider historical factors like the HOLC maps when targeting racial or socioeconomic outcome inequities in schools.