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Black Parents Carry the Burden of School Choice in the Cleveland Metropolitan Area

Racial Residential Segregation and School Choice: How a Market-Based Policy for K-12 School Access Creates a “Parenting Tax” for Black Parents
Angela Simms and Elizabeth Talbert
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White families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with high-performing schools than Black families. This disparity stems from historic and ongoing racial discrimination in housing policies and market practices, limiting Black people’s geographic access to high-quality public goods and services, such as K–12 schools. School choice programs aim to ameliorate this inequality by offering parents a wider range of school options outside of their zoned neighborhood school, such as publicly funded charter, magnet, and specialty schools.

But school choice requires parents to spend time and energy to select a school, rather than their school system automatically providing a high-performing public school in their neighborhood. Exercising school choice imposes additional costs on parents’ daily lives and schedules. The authors call this phenomenon a “parenting tax.”  

This study explores parents’ experiences selecting a school and coordinating their child’s school attendance by interviewing 26 Black parents and 15 white parents living in a highly segregated region: the Cleveland metropolitan area. Sampling processes sought to include a broad range of city and suburban communities, including those with high, moderate, and low poverty.

Key findings:
  • More households in urban areas exercised school choice. Fifteen of 16 Black parents living in the city exercised school choice (94 percent) compared with 5 of 10 Black parents living in the suburbs (50 percent). Four of 5 white families in living in the city exercised school choice (80 percent), compared with 1 in 10 suburban residents (10 percent)
  • Black parents are more likely to live in the city than white families. and most Black parents seek alternatives to their neighborhood school.       
  • Most white parents exercise a version of school choice by choosing where to live and are more likely to send their children to the neighborhood school because they are satisfied with it.
  • White parents report minimal to moderate stress in establishing reliable, consistent routines that get their children to and from school and home.
  • Black parents take on longer, more complicated routines because they are more likely than white parents to transport their children to a school outside their residential neighborhood to gain access to a high-quality school, creating a “parenting tax.”
Policy implications:
  • A high-quality public education is not provided to all children equally. And school choice generates a “parenting tax” that reinforces disadvantage, rather than creating more equitable access to high-quality schools. Higher-performing school options for Black children require equitable public resource distribution across racial groups, irrespective of where they live.
  • To pursue more equitable funding, states can develop funding formulas that account for property tax yields and allocate additional funding to school districts with low local tax bases.
  • States and local jurisdictions might consider incentivizing voluntary racial and economic integration programs.