Inequitable funding and the resulting low-quality schools stem from yet another broken promise of Reconstruction.
After the Civil War, Blacks fought for access to the nation’s “great equalizer,” public education, as part of the tremendous debt owed us. (The debt concerning education is a literal one. Under slavery, in a practice that continued with “indentured” children in post slavery years, it was common for Black children to be “loaned” out as apprentices in exchange for cash to support the private school tuition of their “owner’s” children. In other words, for at least three centuries white children of the gentry were educated as a direct result of wages provided by Black children who were deprived of education [see Neglected Stories: the Constitution and Family Values, Peggy Cooper Davis (Hill and Wang, 1997); or American Negro Slave Revolts, Herbert Aptheker (International Publishers, 1983)].
The right of Blacks to quality education was an important part of the struggle during Reconstruction. In fact, African Americans led the fight for free public schools for all, and working in alliance with whites brought such a victory to the South for the first time.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board decision came after almost a century of sustained organizing and agitation. Many thought that Brown would force an equitable division of resources and end the separate and unequal schooling that was the hallmark of U.S. education. But whites rebelled. When all else failed, they moved out of cities with any significant Black population, thereby accelerating the march toward sprawl and sub-urbanity. They even started their own private schools to avoid contact with Blacks.
This is the true beginning of the “choice” movement.