Schools, Race, and Money

79 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 1999

See all articles by James E. Ryan

James E. Ryan

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education

Date Written: June 1999


The Article concerns the intersection of and relationship between school finance litigation and school desegregation. The central contention is that school finance reform has been and will continue to be hamstrung by the obstacles created by poor race relations and the Court's desegregation jurisprudence. As I explain, residential segregation and the limited reach of school desegregation have helped to create and maintain schools that are isolated not simply by race, but also by socioeconomic status. The effects of such isolation, this Article suggests, cannot be adequately addressed by school finance reform, as students in schools with high concentrations of poverty need more than increased funding to improve achievement.

To put the argument simply: although it is possible that school finance could have been a helpful supplement to desegregation, it is a poor substitute. Despite the hopes of early school finance advocates, we should not expect school finance reform to solve the problems created by the failure to desegregate many urban schools. Indeed, this Article suggests that school finance reform has not only done little to improve the academic performance of students in predominantly minority districts, but that it may also be a costly distraction from the more productive policy of integration. After fleshing out this argument, I suggest two approaches - reorienting school "finance" cases and shaping school choice - that could be used to increase racial and socioeconomic integration.

Suggested Citation

Ryan, James E., Schools, Race, and Money (June 1999). University of Virginia Law School, Legal Studies Working Paper No. 99-7, Available at SSRN: or

James E. Ryan (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education ( email )

6 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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