FILE -  Students arrive for the first day of school at Stuyvesant High School in New York.
FILE - Students arrive for the first day of school at Stuyvesant High School in New York.

Fifty years after they were mandated to allocate more money to non-white schools, U.S. school districts are failing to ensure that funding is distributed equitably, a new study says.

And some groups are filing lawsuits to correct what they say is a practice that blocks a high number of black and Latino students from receiving a "thorough and efficient education."

In the United States, school districts that serve white students are receiving $23 billion more than mostly non-white school districts, says nonprofit research group EdBuild. Majority white districts received more than $152 billion from state and local taxes, while majority non-white districts received nearly $130 billion. About 12.8 million children attend schools in majority non-white districts and 12.5 in majority white districts.

The research looked at 2015-2016 funding to public school districts where at least three out of four students are white. They compared that to money spent on districts where at least three out of four students are non-white. 

When broken down, that means majority non-white districts received $2,226 less per student than majority white districts. In California, that number was about $2,390 less per-student.

In New Jersey, the difference was $3,446. Last year, Latino rights groups and others took legal action against the state, saying the laws and policies amount to segregation, the practice of keeping groups separate.

Their case was filed on the 64th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separating children in public schools based on race was unconstitutional.

Local control of public schools

Public schools educate 90 percent of America's primary and secondary school students. Students mostly attend public schools in the neighborhood, town and city where they live, and money for schools is raised by taxing property owners in that district.

Public school districts also receive money from state and local governments. Funding methods differ by state.

Local governments have the power to decide school district borders. This "local control," EdBuild researchers say, works well for some but not for others. They write that wealthy communities can "use existing laws and political power to draw borders around themselves, keeping deep pockets of money in while leaving less-privileged children out."

Some education experts describe this as gerrymandering — the dividing of a state, voting district or school district in a way that favors some over others.

"So long as we link opportunity to gerrymandered borders and school funding to local wealth, we will never have a fair education system," said EdBuild founder and CEO Rebecca Sibilia.

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