On one side of the line — fresh paint and computer labs.
Across the line? Fewer resources, less-qualified teachers and, above all, many more students of color.
Decades after Brown v Board, these boundaries show a country where schools remain segregated, and unequal.
“You know it as soon as you look at the school. You know it the minute you walk into a classroom,” says Rebecca Sibilia, the founder and CEO of EdBuild, the organization behind a new report on the “endemic” of inequality in our country’s schools. “There are kids who see this every day, and they understand.”
There are nearly 1,000 borders that create “racially isolated” school systems across the country, EdBuild says. These borders leave almost 9 million students in districts that receive less funding than their whiter, wealthier neighbors. The report comes on the 45th anniversary of Milliken v. Bradley, in which the a Supreme Court ruled that federal courts have no power to intervene in order to integrate schools across different districts.
NPR sent photographers to seven locations across the country to document the stark differences between school districts right next to each other.
Each approached the subject in their own way.
This is what they saw.
Inequality, miles from Civil Rights history
Jefferson County Schools / Mountain Brook City School District
Though the state of Alabama allocates more money — almost $1,000 more per student — to schools in Jefferson County, Ala., neighboring Mountain Brook schools still have more money overall to spend per pupil. That difference in funding largely comes from local revenue, money schools are able to raise from property taxes within the district. Mountain Brook — a district of just 4% nonwhite students — raises $9,760 that go toward the schools.
It’s an issue across the country, EdBuild’s Sibilia says.
Photographer Wes Frazer lives in Birmingham. He shot his photos in black and white, he says, “because I wanted the viewer to study the photos to really see the differences in the schools.”
An island of wealth surrounded by the city of Oakland
Oakland Unified School District / Piedmont City Unified School District
In California’s Bay Area, economic and racial segregation separate families — and schools. Oakland Unified, a district of hundreds of schools, entirely surrounds Piedmont City Unified Schools.
Across the country, about 180 districts are surrounded by other districts, says Rebecca Sibilia of EdBuild.
Photographer Talia Herman photographed Ne’Jahra Soriano, 16, who transferred out of Oakland’s McClymonds High School last year after spending her life in Oakland schools. She was interested in being on a strong debate team, but felt that their team, and her school in general, didn’t have the resources it needed.
Salar Jalinous, who is heading into his senior year at Piedmont High School, can tell when he looks around his school that it’s wealthier, and whiter, than Oakland. And, he knows he’s benefited from the schools: “They have a lot of resources to prepare the student’s really well for college,” he explains.
Salar still believes that such stark segregation isn’t fair. But, he says, “Integration requires will and cooperation from both sides.”
In Connecticut, one district “eclipsed” by its neighbor
New Britain School District / Berlin School District
New Britain, a city the center of Connecticut, is one of the state’s Alliance Districts. That means that, along with 32 of the state’s other “lowest-performing” districts, New Britain gets more money for students, staff and community programs.
“But even with that additional state aid,” says Rebecca Sibilia at EdBuild, “they’re completely eclipsed by the wealth of their neighbors.”
Berlin School District — less than 15 minutes away, in a car — still has over $5,000 more to spend than New Britain school, per student in the district.
A Rocky economy and a city dotted with suburbs
Cleveland metropolitan School District / Cuyahoga heights Local School District
“One of the most racially segregating borders in the country, ” EdBuild’s Rebecca Sibilia says, is in Ohio. The line between Cleveland Metropolitan Schools and Cuyahoga Heights Local School District is stark.
The difference in funding between the two districts? “Almost all of that is driven by the ability to raise property taxes and hold on to them,” Sibilia says.
Photographer Maddie McGarvey met Tamesha Walker, a mother of four living in the Cleveland school district. All of Walker’s kids started at Cleveland schools — but she eventually pulled them out to attend private schools or charters. “Trying to find a CMSD school I liked was very challenging. Private schools brought the opportunity of smaller classroom size, more extracurriculars, and lined up more with my beliefs,” Walker says.
McGarvey overlaid photographs of Tamesha and her children on top of scenes from Cuyahoga Heights District. “These districts are different in many ways, but they also share similarities and kids and families who want to learn,” says McGarvey. “I’m hoping these images both compare and contrast the landscape of education.”
The California coastline, marked by inequality
Gonzales Unified School District / Carmel Unified School District
The median home price in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., is $1,290,700.
Photographer Preston Gannaway took her camera out to capture the vastly different landscapes that serve as a backdrop to life in Carmel Unified schools, and its neighbor, Gonzales Unified. Carmel, a high-end tourist destination, known for its sprawling coastline, is surrounded by school districts with far less funding per pupil.
Residents in Carmel raise over $21,000 per student in the district from local property taxes. One of the districts along its border — Gonzales Unified — gets just $4,399 per student from local money.
Where housing segregation begets school segregation
Hempstead Union Free School District / Garden City Union Free School District
Long Island, New York
On Long Island, Elaine Gross, who leads a local nonprofit called Erase Racism says to see the differences in these two communities, you simply have to drive between them.
“You know immediately when you’ve left Garden City and you’re in Hempstead,” Gross explains. In Garden City, the streets are well-paved and shaded with trees. And, the schools get more money for their students, thanks to local funds. While the state of New York allocates more money per student in Hempstead, it’s not enough to make up the difference in local revenue that helps pay for schools in Garden City.
“What Long Island shows us is how Milliken has been used to reinforce all of these negative and detrimental policies of the past,” explains Sibilia. “What I’m talking about here specifically is housing segregation.”
A racial divide between two rural districts
Schuyler Community Schools / David City Public Schools
David City, Nebraska
In Nebraska, 90 minutes from Omaha, two small school districts sit miles away from each other. Residents in David City and Schuyler have close median household incomes, and their schools have similar poverty rates. But the schools in Schuyler and David City differ in one big way: In Schuyler, 87% of students are nonwhite, and in David City, just 11% of the students are nonwhite.
The divide hasn’t always been so stark.
“Schuyler and David City demonstrate what happens when school district borders are rigid but our communities change over time,” says Rebecca Sibilia at EdBuild.