HBD: Human Biodiversity

The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding

Rarely do I find an issuance from The Heritage Foundation to have added to humanity's storehouse of wisdom . . .  But things might change since Jason Richwine came on board last year. Richwine can skillfully crunch numbers and, most important, isn't intimidated by racial taboos. 

Here's a selection from his latest report, "The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding":

In 2009, white public school eighth-graders outscored their black classmates by one standard deviation (equivalent to roughly two and a half years of learning) on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.[1] Racial differences in achievement like this one are pervasive in the U.S. education system, and the gaps have persisted for decades.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test battery given to 15-year-olds in all 34 OECD[2] countries, puts the gaps in stark terms. If white American students were counted as a separate group, their PISA reading score would rank them third in the world. Hispanic and black Americans, however, would score 31st and 33rd, respectively.[3]

Blaming “Unequal Funding.” A common hypothesis is that Hispanic and black students perform worse in school because less money is spent on them. In 1995, Columbia University’s Linda Darling-Hammond claimed, “The resources devoted to the education of poor children and children of color in the U.S. continue to be significantly less than those devoted to other American children…and it is these inequalities that create and sustain the ‘bell curve’ of differential achievement.”[4]

Part of the NAACP’s official statement on education policy reads: “Quality public education for African American and Latino students is persistently threatened as a direct result of inequitable school funding.”[5]

Responding in 2001 to criticism that blacks and Hispanics perform poorly on the SAT, College Board President Gaston Caperton declared, “Tests are not the problem…. The problem we have is an unfair education system in America—an unequal education system.”[6]

Even conservative author John McWhorter, while downplaying structural and institutional explanations for the racial achievement gap, still asserts that the alleged funding disadvantage for black students “is a real one.”[7]

These commentators are mistaken on two levels. First, increasing school spending has rarely led to better outcomes.[8] Second, and more fundamentally, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education itself, the assumed funding disparities between racial and ethnic groups do not exist.


Table 1 displays three columns of results. The first shows the raw per-pupil spending figures for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. The second column shows per-pupil spending on white students. The third column adjusts this percentage with the CWI to reflect differences in the cost of living. All three data points for each group are then broken down by census region.

Nationwide, raw per-pupil spending is similar across racial and ethnic groups. The small differences that do exist favor non-white students. After breaking down the data by region, the non-white funding advantage becomes more pronounced. In the Northeast, for example, blacks receive over $2,000 more than whites in per-pupil fundingper year. The region with the smallest differences is the South, where spending on black and Hispanic students is only slightly higher than on whites.

Adjusted for cost of living, the differences narrow. Asian and Hispanic students receive slightly less money than whites overall, while blacks receive slightly more. Regional differences persist after the adjustment, especially in the Northeast.

Let's take stock of where we are. The notion that standardized tests are "culturally biased" has been thoroughly demolished. The Verbal SAT is now laden with so much "Diversity," in terms of names and reading comprehension selections, that no one who has taken the test in the past 20 years can hear this critique without smirking. Moreover, Blacks actually do more poorly in the Mathematics portion, which involves abstract reasoning, than the Verbal, which, we were told, confused them with its many references to croquet and yachting. The fixation that Black schools are "under funded" has, hopefully, now been dealt a deathblow by Richwine. Sadly, the meme that Blacks don't perform well out of a fear of "acting White" might have legs, since this psychological notion is impossible to disprove. Whatever the case, Richwine is helping policy analysts take a step closer to racial reality.