Shortchanged: Racism, School Finance
and Educational Inequality in North Carolina, 1964-1997

Dissertation Abstract

My dissertation examines inequality in school funding in North Carolina from 1964 to 1997. It highlights local, county and state decisions about the distribution of educational funds, and shows that public officials have created and maintained school funding mechanisms that exacerbated inequalities between racial groups to preserve White capital and advantage White communities. Discriminatory taxation schemes, district-line gerrymandering and voter suppression ensured White control of school boards and boards of county commissioners, which presided over school budgets, resulting in uneven revenue distribution. I analyze these mechanisms as instances of theft—theft of civil rights and financial resources—within a tradition of White kleptocracy in the state.

My project first focuses on four case studies, including two rural and two urban and suburban counties, where I examine the correlation between financial inequities and racial segregation through quantitative and qualitative analysis. I ask how historical actors have addressed educational inequalities over time, and how local governments, courts and legislatures responded to these intertwined challenges.

This study investigates the discrepancy between the legacies of Jim Crow in school finance and racially neutral arguments in education reform and school finance litigation. All four case-study counties became involved in the 1994 Leandro v. State of North Carolina lawsuit, which challenged the state’s school funding formula. The urban-rural plaintiff coalition highlighted contradictions in arguments about the root causes of resource inequalities in public schools. The Leandro case did not address racial discrimination, and I question and historicize this silence.

Available for download in May 2021