The Influence of Race in School Finance Reform

56 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


There is some evidence, from past social science studies, that school finance reform is seen by citizens--and especially white parents--through a racial lens. This Article picks up that point--which is nothing more than a hint, really--and tries to explore the role of race in school finance reform by surveying the history and success of minority districts in school finance reform litigation. The Article examines how predominantly minority districts have fared in school finance litigation (and subsequent legislative reforms) as compared to predominantly white districts, and concludes that minority districts fare worse than their white counterparts both in court and before the legislature. Based on this and other evidence, this Article contends that there are strong reasons to believe that the racial composition of the school district plays an influential role in determining success or failure in school finance litigation and legislative reform.

As the Article explains, this evidence has important academic, historical, and practical implications. Indeed, if the Article is correct in asserting that race plays an influential role in school finance reform, school finance scholars and practitioners should begin paying closer attention than they have to the dynamics of race relations and school desegregation; historians and legal scholars should recognize with added confidence the wisdom of the NAACP's desegregation strategy; and civil rights attorneys, courts, critical race theorists, and conservative critcs of desegregation should hesitate before abandoning the goal of desegregation.

Suggested Citation

Ryan, James E., The Influence of Race in School Finance Reform (June 1999). University of Virginia Law School, Legal Studies Working Paper No. 99-8, 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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