The Best and Worst States for Racial Equality in Education

A recent study determined predominantly White school districts receive $23 billion more per year funding than predominantly non-White school districts.

The Best and Worst States for Racial Equality in Education

Photo: melita, Adobe Stock

Despite serving the same number of students, predominantly White school districts receive $23 billion more per year funding than predominantly non-White school districts, according to a recent study from EdBuild, an education advocacy group.

Like many studies before it, the study also determined race and class are inextricably linked in schools. In the United States, 20% of students are enrolled in districts that are both poor and predominantly non-White but only 5% of students live in districts that are both poor and predominately White. Predominately White districts also have the benefit of smaller districts. On average, White districts enroll just over 1,500 students — half the size of the national average — while non-White districts serve over 10,000 students — three times more than the average.

“Small districts can have the effect of concentrating resources and amplifying political power. Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many,” says the study. “On the whole, non-White districts receive significantly less funding than white districts. Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.”

Breaking it down to its impact on individual students, the study found poor White school districts receive $150 less per student than the national average, which the study authors call “an injustice all to itself.” However, they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor non-White school districts.

Non-White higher education campuses also receive significantly less funding. According to a 2022 investigation by Forbes, Florida A&M University (FAMU), a historically Black university (HBCU), received $2,600 less funding per student than the University of Florida in 2020. More specifically, the investigation determined FAMU’s $123 million in state appropriations in 2020 amounted to $13,000 per student, compared with UF’s $15,600 per student.

FAMU is also far more dependent on state funding than UF. State money accounted for 41% of its $330 million in total revenue in 2021, compared with 24% at UF, which makes more in tuition revenue and private grants and contracts. FAMU also has $111 million in facilities debt, according to Forbes.

Experts also warn the recent elimination of affirmative action by the U.S. Supreme Court will further the racial equality divide in employment, skills, and advancement opportunities. It will also impact not only higher education students but K-12 students as well and the overall safety of school campuses.

“If the current practices of race-conscious admissions that have so significantly widened the pathway for diverse representation in higher education institutions are no longer legal, then K-12 schools must do more to improve the educational outcomes and college readiness of underrepresented students,” Rob Buelow, general manager of education at Vector Solutions, wrote in a contributed article for Campus Safety.

But how can K-12 schools be expected to support underrepresented students if the funding isn’t there?

Not surprisingly, according to WalletHub, lower funding can lead to lower quality education which can affect not only a person’s income trajectory but also their career trajectory for the rest of their life. To determine which states have the most racial equality in education, WalletHub aggregated data from the U.S. Censure Bureau, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the ACT and College Board to compare the 50 states using six key metrics.

WalletHub says it determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its total score and used the resulting scores to rank-order the states. It’s important to note the data only includes gaps between White people and Black people; it does not include other non-White races.

The key metrics used were:

  1. Share of adults with at least a high school degree
  2. Share of adults with at least a Bachelor’s degree
  3. Standardized test scores
  4. Mean SAT score (Note: New Hampshire was ranked the best state and Ohio was ranked the worst with a 3x difference)
  5. Average ACT score
  6. Public high school graduation rate (Note: Hawaii was ranked the best state and Wisconsin was ranked the worst with a 12x difference)

Where Does Your State Fall on the List?

Here’s the full list of where all 50 states ranked from best to worst for racial equality in education:

  1. New Mexico
  2. Wyoming
  3. West Virginia
  4. Oregon
  5. Vermont
  6. Hawaii
  7. Kentucky
  8. Texas
  9. Arizona
  10. Oklahoma
  11. Maine
  12. Delaware
  13. Montana
  14. Arkansas
  15. Georgia
  16. Tennessee
  17. New Hampshire
  18. Alabama
  19. Mississippi
  20. Indiana
  21. Alaska
  22. Nevada
  23. North Dakota
  24. Washington
  25. South Dakota
  26. Idaho
  27. Rhode Island
  28. Florida
  29. North Carolina
  30. California
  31. Utah
  32. Iowa
  33. Louisiana
  34. Kansas
  35. Maryland
  36. Missouri
  37. Virginia
  38. Colorado
  39. Michigan
  40. Ohio
  41. Massachusetts
  42. New Jersey
  43. Carolina
  44. Illinois
  45. Pennsylvania
  46. Nebraska
  47. New York
  48. Connecticut
  49. Minnesota
  50. Wisconsin

A breakdown of the five lowest- and highest-ranked states for each metric can be found here. WalletHub also created a chart that can be hovered over to see each state’s ranking:

Source: WalletHub

How Can the U.S. Improve Racial Equality in Education?

WalletHub also asked six experts five questions related to racial equality in education and how it can be improved. Those questions were:
  1. Should local authorities target policies and programs to improve educational opportunities for all? If so, what works?
  2. Should Critical Race Theory be taught in schools?
  3. Have the recent years widened the existing inequalities in education?
  4. How does the racial wealth gap affect educational opportunities?
  5. How does race affect school spending per student?

The responses weren’t unanimous, emphasizing the complexity of the issue and the fact that what works for one state or even one municipality might not work for the one right next to it. You can click on each expert to see their individual responses to the questions.

Are there quantifiably successful ways your district or school has helped bridge the gap of racial equality in education? What worked for your specific circumstances? What didn’t work? Leave a comment below — it might help out another campus safety professional looking to improve racial equality.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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