If I want to get to know a school district’s relationship to capitalism, specifically its funding structure and apparatuses, there are a few places I’ve learned to look.
Start with data banks. The Civil Rights Data Collection has racial demographics as well as good population numbers per school district and at the school level. Reporting waned under Trump, which is a crime. The National Center for Education Statistics also has fine-grained, more up-to-date district-level data but without the civil rights angle.
Next come projects looking at inequality. EdBuild’s Dividing Line interactive map is very helpful (all their tools are great, but they went under during the pandemic).
The Shanker Institute’s school finance indicators database feature state-level information helpfully broken down by equity, adequacy, and effort.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I look at recent and historical bond issuances for the district. The Securities Exchange Commission requires that all public bond issuance get tracked by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which has a helpful website called Electronic Municipal Markets Access (EMMA).
Bond issuance is interesting for a couple reasons. First, when the other resources talk about school ‘finance’ they rarely include loans. They’re mostly talking about tax grants from the local, state, and federal levels. But loans and debt are a huge part of school finance. And it’s more immediately articulated with capitalism through credit markets.
Second, bond issuance documents are just really really interesting. They have a ton of different kinds of information, from the most boring legalese to cutting edge portrayal’s of entire governments in a political-economic moment. They tell the story of the issuer in a way that’s hard to match elsewhere.
If you look at school districts from each of these angles, you can learn a lot about that district’s relationship to capitalism. In an upcoming post, I’m going to take a look at a specific district—one that I know very little about—using this methodology. Stay tuned.