June 9, 2021


School Choice Combats the Consequences of Redlining

By: Cooper Conway

Next week on June 19th, Americans will celebrate Juneteenth in remembrance of the emancipation of the last of the slaves who got word of their freedom in 1865. Nevertheless, since June 19th, 1865, discrimination against Black Americans has continued in one way or another with unfair housing policies like redlining, a discriminatory criminal justice system over-policing black communities, and inequities in our education system’s funding. 

Policymakers looking to address continued issues of our education system’s s discriminatory faults should start by considering the advantages of school choice. 

Discrimination has been hurting black students for most of American history, but few moments have resulted in as much long-term inequity as the enactment of redlining policies across the country in 1930. Created by the Home Owner’s Loan Coalition (HOLC) — a group initially meant to provide housing loans to families during the Great Depression based on residential security maps — redlining is largely responsible for continued efforts to increase de facto segregation and put economic resources out of reach for the black community. 

The HOLC’s maps were split into four colors that ranked each neighborhood. If a neighborhood was shaded green, that meant it was the best place to live. Blue meant it wasn’t perfect but still desirable. Yellow meant it was in decline. Red neighborhoods were considered hazardous places to live. Analysis of the neighborhood demographics at the time reveals the disturbing method behind the ranking; hazardous red areas — the places that banks deemed unworthy of receiving housing loans — aligned perfectly with black neighborhoods. 

Arguably,  The Fair Housing Act of 1968 officially ended redlining by making it illegal to deny renting, financing or selling based on someone’s race. Still, many scholars believe its effects live on. Many have pointed to redlining as one of the main reasons for the wealth gap between blacks and whites in the United States today. One study from the real estate group Redfin found homeowners in redlined areas earned 52 percent less equity than homeowners in greenlined areas over the past 40 years, resulting in a difference in the home equity value of over $200,000. Another study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in 2018 found 74 percent of redlined neighborhoods from the 1930s are now low to moderately wealthy neighborhoods, with over 60 percent of them being classified as majority-minority neighborhoods.

But this doesn’t just affect homeowners. It also affects many American students, who continue to be zoned into schools based on their home address and maps nearly identical to those used when redlining policies were implemented. The district zoning might not be as large a problem if most states had equitable education funding systems, but they do not. Funding for many state K-12 schools is mainly based on property taxes. The result? Kids from low-income neighborhoods go to low-income schools, while kids from wealthy families in high-income neighborhoods attend high-income schools. 

Thankfully, state legislators in multiple states are looking to combat these inequities in education by taking two steps to curtail redlining’s adverse effects on students. First, policymakers can and should end residential assignment policies that trap students into a local public school based on their home address. In addition, state legislators can empower families by implementing Education Savings Accounts, allowing families the flexibility to use education dollars — currently designated to the public school the child attends — toward almost any education expense, including private school tuition. 

Students, especially black students, have been negatively affected by the lack of choice due to the repercussions of redlining for far too long. While endorsement of equitable public school choices and implementing private school choice policies is not a silver bullet to end the aftereffects of redlining, it is a good step toward an America that empowers students of all backgrounds instead of discriminating against them.