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Educational policy analysis archives
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University of South Florida
Arizona State University
University of South Florida.
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Comment on Ng's Wealth redistribution, race, and Southern public schools, 1880-1910 / Sherman Dorn.
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1 of 6 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 9 Number 17May 13, 2001ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2001, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .Comment on Ng's Wealth Redistribution, Race, and Southern Public Sc hools, 1880-1910 Sherman Dorn University of South FloridaAbstract Wherein the author raises criticisms and advances q ualifications to the conclusions reached by Kenneth Ng is his article "Wealth Redistribution, Race and Southern Public Schools, 1880-1910." Kenneth Ng has argued, in his article published as issue 17 of volume 9 of Education Policy Analysis Archives that Bullock, Fishlow, Harris, Kousser, and Margo have incorrectly assumed that segregation allowed w hites to draw off Southern Black tax contributions to support public education. This arg ument, like many in social history, is as much about current conditions as the past. As Ng wrote just before the conclusion, It is difficult if not impossible to argue the leve l of subsidy implied by equal expenditures on Black and white children, given the relative reliance on the poll and property tax, the voter participation rate s of Blacks and whites, and the level of Black and white taxable property is su perior to another level of subsidy implied by different levels of expenditure. In fact, if variation in taxable property and voter participation across sta tes and time are


2 of 6considered, equalizing expenditures across race wou ld lead to different levels of net subsidy across states and over time. It is difficult to see how the particular pattern of subsidy implied by equal expenditures is "best." In other words, Ng is arguing that, if the history of segregation did not lead to a net subsidy of white children's education by Black chil dren's, the whole notion of equalizing fuding per child is irrational. Ng's claim acquires particular salience because the historical arguments over school funding in the Sou th often did focus on whether school funding was in proportion to taxes paid. This argum ent requires examination of the historical evidence used, Ng's interpretation of pu blic funding in the context of Southern education in the pre-Brown years, the consequences of segregation for public education more broadly, and the broader question of fairness in funding.Use of Evidence Ng is injudicious in presenting both spending and r evenue data for schools. Table 2, which is the basis for Ng's analysis, captures o nly teachers' salaries. Today, when direct instruction only occupies about half of full -time-equivalent staffing in public schools, no one would imagine using classroom salar ies as a proxy for total spending. In the pre-Brown era, public schools spent disproporti onately on white schools not only for teachers but also for supplies, supervision, and ca pital construction. Southern schools forced Black schools to use second-hand books (comm only passed on from white schools), had less publicly-funded supervision of B lack teachers (for the most visible supervisors of Southern Black schools were the priv ately-funded Jeanes teachers), and scrimped on construction of schools (Anderson, 1988 ). Ironically enough, in one of the sources Ng uses (Kousser's 1980 article on the Cumming v. Richmond case in Augusta, Georgia), Kousser makes clear that the data used fo r comparative purposes, teacher salaries, underestimates the disproportionate fundi ng for white schools and that, if all costs (including the value of schools) were availab le, any net subsidy for Black schools would certainly be reversed (Kousser, "Separate but not Equal," pp. 24-26). Ng's use of revenue data is similarly incomplete. H e uses voter participation as a proportional proxy for poll tax revenues from South erners. Many tax collectors were inconsistent before disfranchisement, and many afte r disfranchisement laws collected the poll tax from Black residents, secure that other ba rriers would prevent them from voting. In addition, Ng ignores other potential sources of financial support for schools. Educational funding was idiosyncratic in the segreg ationist South. Some jurisdictions relied on the poll and property taxes, but in other areas, indirect taxes on utility and landlord property—some part of which certianly was passed on to renters—also contributed to schools (which Kousser estimates as 12 percent in North Carolina, in one of the articles cited by Ng). Some schools charged tuition. Many communities raised funds voluntarily. Absent a careful analysis of sup port state-by-state, the conclusions Ng can draw from the data presented here are merely sp eculative. (The fact that Kousser, adding in estimates of indirect taxation, concludes that any net subsidy of Black schools in North Carolina shrank dramatically in the same t ime period Ng covers should make readers extremely cautious about any statement abou t subsidies.)Historical Context of Segregation and School Expend itures Ng's statistical analysis is removed from the conte xt of historical school politics in the South. Two facets of that history are important to understanding the consequences of


3 of 6segregation for educational opportunities in the So uth. First, segregation made public education safe for white politicians. Many white po liticians, including John Harlan before he became Justice Harlan (the dissenter in Plessy and the author of the Cumming v. Richmond decision leaving demonstrably unequal education al one in Augusta), struggled with how to frame the educational debates after Reconstruction. In some cases, equal funding (often framed as "proportionate" fund ing) was explicitly debated. After the disfranchisement of most African-American and m any white voters, as well as the codification of segregation, white politicians coul d expand schooling for whites without incurring any political cost. Unlike the immediate post-Civil War era, when public schooling was politically radical, the expansion of schooling, especially high schools, was tame and fit within the caste system of the Sou th because of the newly-confirmed capacity to provide unequal opportunities. In other areas of the country, and in the South at other times, I would suspect that any "school su bsidy" analyzed in the same way would be far greater than what Ng describes here. B y failing to make such comparisons, Ng is suggesting that any subsidy is fair in the co ntext of the political environment of the time. The second key context is the crucial use of the hi gh school, which used relatively little funding compared to elementary schools at th e time, in creating unequal educational opportunities. The Southern high school was largely for "whites only" in the first third of the twentieth century and still unav ailable to African-Americans in many parts of the rural South as late as 1960 (Anderson, 1980). Aggregating all expenditure hides the effect of different funding on secondary schooling. By analyzing all educational expenditures, Ng has effectively ignore d how white students had demonstrably unequal access to secondary education.Public Programs without Net Subsidies? Ng suggests that a funding scheme that is dramatica lly unequal in direct spending can still be fair. His measure of fairness, net sub sidy, flies in the face of all government public-good spending practices. Spending on any ser vice or good accessible to the general population (or a segment of it, such as sch oolchildren) is necessarily redistributive on some basis, since the elimination of subsidies would require an accounting scheme that limits spending to individua l disbursements. The purpose of spending for fire, police, health, and schooling is to provide services judged necessary for the whole population. Police and fire services subsidize some geographic areas at the expense of others. Public health programs subsidize the unhealthy. Schooling subsidizes the young. Ng's argument is not unique, though it has appeared more commonly in the philosophical arguments about intergenerational tra nsfers of wealth involved in Social Security's "pay as you go" system. Ng is raising th e ghost of the net subsidy argument, which Southern white politicians used and rejected more than a century ago. What is notable is why white politicans rejected the argume nt. They certainly were both comfortable with and had reasons to encourage unequ al funding. However, shrewd politicians like North Carolina Governor Charles Br antley Aycock knew that white school boards had sufficient legal discretion at th eir disposal, after disfranchisement, to spend school funds as they wished. Adding a legal m andate for unequal spending would merely draw attention to a fact that they wished wo uld remain undiscussed (Kousser, "Progressivism"). So, too, politicians today are tr ying mightily to avoid the issue of unequal funding. They should not take any comfort f rom the history of school spending in the segregationist South.


4 of 6 ReferencesAnderson, J. (1988). The Education of Blacks in the South, 1865-1935 Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Kousser, J. M. (1980). Progressivism—For Middle-Cla ss Whites Only: North Carolina Education, 1880-1910. Journal of Southern History, 46 169-94. Kousser, J. M. (1980). Separate but not Equal: The Supreme Court's First Decision on Racial Discrimination in Schools. Journal of Southern History, 46, 17-44. About the AuthorSherman Dorn University of South Florida Email: Sherman Dorn is Assistant Professor in the Departme nt of Psychological and Social Foundations at the University of South Florida. He received his Ph.D. in history at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 based on his wor k on the history of dropout policies. He is currently looking at the history of special e ducation in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1940 to 1990.Copyright 2001 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-0211. (602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. C obb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University


5 of 6 Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois—UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education David D. Williams Brigham Young UniversityEPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State


6 of 6 Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los