How good are America’s public schools? It depends on where you live.

Education funding is like any other public infrastructure investment. School systems with sufficient funding tend to get better results. Schools that lack resources are less effective and resilient in the face of ordinary challenges, let alone unprecedented catastrophes like the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as distance-education removes the spatial component from public education — lessons no longer happen in a particular classroom, or at a particular school, but on the (ostensibly worldwide) web — these lines still separate children from one another. The endless Covid-19 crisis is revealing the primary weakness of decentralizing the funding of public services: Stark resource divides that fuel some of the deepest social inequities.

This starts with interstate funding gaps. In states like Kansas and Arizona, leaders have long underfunded their public education systems. This led to the spectacle, early in the pandemic, of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announcing that the state would “donate” 200 mobile hotpots to its public schools in an effort to kickstart private hotspot donations. We see even bigger disparities in public preschool spending: In 2019, the District of Columbia spent $18,669 per child, while North Dakota and Nebraska each spent less than $2,000 per child.

At the local level, these resource disparities regularly align with — and exacerbate — longstanding racial, socioeconomic, ethnic and linguistic divisions in American society. According to 2017 data from EdBuild, a nonprofit focused on inequitable education funding, schools in Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District were funded to the tune of $25,068 per student, while schools in neighboring Philadelphia received just $12,044. It’s bitterly unsurprising that Lower Merion schools are significantly whiter and wealthier than Philadelphia’s.

Too often, neighborhood enrollment zones and school district boundaries separate children by race, class and/or national origin. Too often, these boundaries were drawn specifically and intentionally to maintain that separation — and were abetted by racist housing policies. Indeed, recent data suggest that Black, Latinx and Native American families are disproportionately likely to lack access to learning technology and the internet. As schools closed this spring, low-income families were more likely to flag technology access as a problem. Meanwhile, teachers in higher-income schools were more likely to report that they had successfully moved instruction online.

Read the full article about federal funding for public schools by Conor P. Williams and Shantel Meek at The Hechinger Report.