Race Differences in School Funding Probably Never Mattered

One of the non-genetic explanations for the various inequalities between blacks and whites in the United States has to do with a lack of educational opportunities in terms of school quality.

The argument goes that even if such opportunities are, or were to be, equalized today, that will not overcome the effects of prior lack of opportunity for blacks.

So before getting into the past, which always has worse data, let's figure out what's going on today.

One way to test the importance of school quality are voucher experiments. We can look at what happens when students apply for and get vouchers, and students who apply for and don't get vouchers, and control for all the relevant factors like race and wealth. I found three studies with good data on the results.

First we can look at results from the Milwaukee Program:

Similar results found from the Cleveland Program:

And similar results were found in the Washington DC Program:

I have seen articles on the Louisiana voucher program that described similar results, but I can't find the bones for it.

The results of voucher studies do well to dent the myth of "bad schools" and "good schools". Schools are just averages of the kids in them. Bad kids yield bad averages.

Today, it is found that blacks get slightly more money spent on their schools than whites:

And in all likelihood, even if there were some major differences in funding, they probably wouldn't matter:

School spending since 1970 hasn't accounted for any of the variation in school performance. It doesn't seem to even correlate, but even if it did correlate—so what? Rich people spend more money on things and tend to be smarter, and smart people have smart kids.

But I digress; I'm talking about racial disparity in spending, and there is none.

The "white privilege" argument, however, deals with the effects of previous funding disparities carrying over to today.

The first question on that needs to be answered for that is what proportion of taxes did blacks pay, and what proportion of education funding did they receive during the Jim Crow period of education?

The period of "Jim Crow in education" is best described as lasting from 1877 (the end of reconstruction) to 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education).

Well, I don't have data on tax revenue by race and state, so we can't (or at least I can't) answer this question with certainty.

However we do know that schools at the time in the United States were paid for by the states, and that states' funds came mostly from property taxes.

We know that in 2010, black households had on average 19.7% as much wealth as white households per household. Blacks also have slightly more children per household than whites, which would drive their per-pupil wealth down even more, but I can't be arsed to factor that in and will just keep it in mental reserve as a buffer. How does this compare to the funds they received during Jim Crow? Well, take a look at this table:

The data starts in 1890. Reconstruction was from 1865 to 1877, and during this period the former CSA was required to spend as much per pupil on blacks as on whites.

So if blacks held the same proportion of "wealth" they did in 2010 in the form of taxable "property" from 1890 to 1950, we should expect them to have paid 19.7% of the taxes per person as whites did.

However, during this time period, blacks almost certainly had less property relative to whites as they do now. How much less? It's hard to say.

But we know that only South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida had at any point black per-pupil spending that was anywhere near as low as the black proportion of household wealth per capita in 2010. And even in those states it was usually higher.

For those having difficulty following, this means that whites were almost certainly paying for black schools. If blacks paid 19.7% of the property taxes that whites paid per capita, and they were normally getting 42% of white school funds per capita depending on the state and year in 1910 (which was the low point for black funding relative to whites), this would mean about half of black school costs were paid by whites during Jim Crow.

And in all likelihood, blacks were paying far less than 19.7% of what whites were paying in property taxes per capita, because they almost certainly had less wealth then than they do now.

What this means is that, even during Jim Crow, Southern whites were probably paying for more than half of the school costs for blacks.

Did the Lower Funding Matter?

Okay, so we know that blacks got, on average, about 42% of what whites got in terms of funding during Jim Crow before Brown vs. Board of Education (1877-1954) at the lowest.

We know that, in constant dollars, schools in 1970 in the US got 43.8% as much funding as schools in 2005 did per pupil.

We also know that this had zero effect on scores. The difference in spending (in constant dollars) between $4,060 and $9,266 had zero discernible impact.

But it's possible that back in 1910, this funding difference mattered. Because perhaps in 1910, 58% less funding meant you couldn't afford paper, or pencils, or books, etc.

Unfortunately we don't have standardized test scores back then, but we can compare black:white school funding in the 11 Jim Crow states with the black:white achievement gaps in math and reading in 1998:

If you read over the numbers, no trend pops out at you. Here's that data on a scatterplot:

The correlation is basically zero. But maybe that just means that variation explains no difference today, even though it mattered in say 1917.

Ideally we could get some state-by-state IQ data, but I can't find that. However, I do know the overall average IQ of blacks in the US from the US Army IQ tests used in World War 1.

On that, blacks had a median score of 83, compared to 85 during the 1990s. This of course included some northern blacks who didn't face as significant of differences in school funding relative to whites.

Moreover, it could have been other things responsible for blacks having 2 points lower IQ in 1917 than in 1995, such as nutrition—though during slavery, blacks were probably better nourished than whites.

But the big picture is that, even when black schools were at their low point of funding relative to whites, it had no effect that lasted into 1998, and probably had zero or close to zero effect at the time.

Some Perspective

The obvious counter to this argument is that the reason blacks had less wealth and thus (probably) paid less in taxes is because of slavery. And that even if the lower funding of black schools probably had a negligible effect, they still deserved nicer schools.

One response would be a race realist response, that we can't assume what blacks would have had were they not slaves in the United States, perhaps they would have been even poorer. I mean, they have lower IQs today, and there are some good reasons to believe it's for mostly down to genetics—but this is IMO a trivial way to respond to this.

The other, more appropriate response is that European-Americans are not responsible for African slavery. "We" simply bought them from other Africans, and instead of working them in plantations in Africa, put them on boats and worked them on plantations in the United States.

Maybe you could say it was a shitty thing to do, to use their status as slaves to our own advantage instead of trying to help them get free. And I would agree, but I'm not talking about what is virtuous, I'm talking about what is fair: what are they owed?

And the answer to that is: nothing more than they would have gotten had Europeans never contacted Africa. In reality, these black slaves got far more, even (or perhaps especially) during slavery itself, and after slavery got a much better deal than they would have gotten had they never been bought by Europeans but instead remained slaves within Africa.

Quick Recap

  1. Voucher studies show that "good schools" and "bad schools" are probably a myth.

  2. Data on spending and performance over time show that, as long as it has been measured, increases in spending don't change school performance.

  3. Today, and since the mid-1980s, blacks have had the same or higher school spending. It probably doesn't and probably never mattered though.

  4. There is no correlation between the ratio of black:white funding for schools in 1910 and the black:white achievement gap in 1998 on reading or math for 8th graders.

  5. School funding in 1970 was 43% of that of school funding in 2005. In 1910, school funding for blacks was 42% of school funding for whites in Jim Crow states. The 57% difference in funding in 1970 to 2005 didn't matter at all.

  6. The median IQ of blacks was 83 in 1917, compared to 85 today. We cannot be certain, but this suggests that the lower funding of black schools in 1910 (42% of white funding) in the Jim Crow South probably didn't matter very much back then, if at all. Even those 2 IQ points may be a result of something else.

  7. Whites don't owe blacks equal opportunity because whites didn't cause them to be slaves, and the Atlantic Slave Trade did not increase the supply of slaves within Africa since the supply was completely inelastic—i.e. the supply of slaves did not increase just because more people were willing to buy them (the topic of a future post).

And so we are left with a simple conclusion: race differences in school funding don't seem to matter today, and the effects of prior differences in funding don't seem to have any impact on scores today as states with historically lower black funding have no bigger black-white gap today than states which had more black funding during Jim Crow. And it doesn't seem like the funding disparity in 1910 had much impact on 1917 IQ scores—at most it appears to have cost blacks 2 IQ points, but that would assume those 2 lower IQ points were due entirely to school funding.

So contrary to what the spinsters who run the schools like to say, race differences in school funding probably never mattered.

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LARPing and proud of it. I like to run naked in the woods after painting runes all over my body and rail against capitalism and consumerism.