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The United States As a Traffic-Light: How Redlining Divides the Country and Diminishes Education Equality
By Alicia Augustin
Alicia Augustin is a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences who plans to study Political Science and Urban Education.
The practice of redlining in the United States has added another dimension to the division of the country in a systematic way. This system not only creates this idea of desirable vs. undesirable areas to live in, but it also actively aids in perpetuating the inequalities that exist within these divisions. The roots of redlining can be traced back to the Great Depression and how government officials responded to it.
With the goal of repairing the United States from the devastation brought by the Great Depression, in 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the New Deal into action. The New Deal consisted of several programs that aimed to serve three main purposes: to relieve, recover, and reform the country from the effects of the Great Depression.  From programs that supported economic stabilization to rural assistance programs, Roosevelt’s New Deal was shaped to ensure that Americans could receive a plethora of support from the government. 
The Home Owners’ Loan Act of 1933 was created to assist homeowners with financial troubles and improve the mortgage industry . This act led to the creation of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), an organization meant to execute this act by providing emergency loans and relief to homeowners.  HOLC practiced redlining, which is the dividing of neighborhoods into color-coded areas so that “desirable” areas would be distinguished from “hazardous” areas . Green areas are graded as “best”, or the most desirable, blue areas are graded as “still desirable”, yellow areas are graded as “definitely declining”, and red areas are graded as “hazardous”. 
When looking at the maps that are drawn based on HOLC’s standards, many parts of the United States begin to resemble a traffic light. Red alerts loan companies to stop and avoid loaning in that area. Yellow alerts loan companies to slow down and consider loaning in that area. Neighborhoods color-coded green or blue represented good investments for the loan companies. Consequently, loan corporations will assist desirable areas, while those deemed undesirable, redlined communities are left to fend for themselves.
Redlining seems like a sensible method of determining the best areas for loan corporations to trust. Handing out loans requires a high degree of trust since loan corporations are expecting their money back eventually. Unfortunately, when areas of the United States are redlined, the criteria behind determining what makes an area “desirable” consider demographic factors, like race.  Therefore, high concentrations of minorities in a community decrease the value of the area. For example, low-income African-American families could be highly concentrated in an area and it would be perceived as undesirable by banks and loan companies.
The impact that redlining has on education inequality becomes apparent when looking at how schooling is linked to housing.  Areas where houses are worth more typically house residents with higher incomes.  The Joint Economic Committee (JEC) finds that the U.S. zip code areas that contain the best schools also have houses where the average price is nearly $500,000.  JEC also finds that areas, where there are poor quality schools, have houses where the average price is about $125,000.  This is a large gap that displays the disproportion in income in different areas and how better schools are accessible in expensive areas. A report by the Department of Education showed how the richest school districts spent on average about $1,500 more per student than poorer schools.  Based on redlined maps, areas that are high-income or more desirable will typically have significantly better-funded schools.
Many may question why students in less desirable areas would not just go to school in the better areas. The answer is that students face more restrictions that limit their opportunity to attain proper education. Coined “education redlining” by Tim DeRoche, this limitation on education attainment is due to mapping enforced by school district lines and attendance zones. 
School district boundaries create geographic boundaries that allow for funding to be distributed in different ways.  For example, school district A is bound to a more desirable neighborhood and receives more funding while school district B, which is in an undesirable area, receives less funding. Funding is important in schooling because it allows for access to better resources such as technology. Attendance zone boundaries are the lines that exist within school districts to assign students to certain schools according to where they live.  These boundaries are problematic because not only are students already restricted to a school district, but they are also forced to attend a school that school district officials decide. They are not given the freedom to choose where they could attain the best education.
These boundaries are often drawn with discriminatory motives. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), held that the “separate but equal” doctrine violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, further deciding that public school segregation was unconstitutional.  This case outlawed racial segregation allowing for integrated schools. Before, race could prevent a child from attending a school they wanted. Many who were angered by this sought creative ways to avoid adhering to these new laws. Redlining in education became a legal way to reinforce segregation in schools.
School districts with a majority of white children receive $23 billion more funding than school districts with predominantly black children.  This disparity explains the lack of resources provided to schools with black children, ultimately leading to inequalities in education between black and white children.
In an attempt to mitigate the implications of redlining on education, there are many nonprofit organizations and interest groups that focus on combating inequalities in the education system. Teaching Matters is a nonprofit organization committed to this cause by placing an emphasis on supporting teachers and educators.  Teaching Matters believes that having access to better teachers will improve equity in education.  The connection between better teachers and redlining is that areas deemed desirable are likely to pay teachers more, while areas deemed undesirable simply cannot afford it. As a result, “better” teachers will teach in desirable areas, leaving undesirable areas with less funding and higher populations of minorities without the same access to high-quality education.
By donating to nonprofit organizations, citizens can help invest in education. Investments in the education system can help narrow the equality gap in education. Additionally, time investment into these organizations through volunteer work is a great way to support them more directly.
Redlining has historically been an integral part of public education in the United States, similar to the necessity of a traffic light in regulating traffic. Redlining is a difficult system to get rid of since it is so deeply embedded in the country. Education nonprofit organizations push for a focus on improving factors of education (improving teachers, resources, curricula, etc.) as the primary solution. Children deserve fair education no matter where they live, and redlining deprives them of proper educational attainment.
 “What Was the New Deal?: Oklahoma Historical Society.” Oklahoma Historical Society | OHS. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://www.okhistory.org/learn/depression3.
 “New Deal Programs.” Living New Deal, October 18, 2022. https://livingnewdeal.org/what-was-the-new-deal/programs/.
 Congress, United States. “Home Owners' Loan Act of 1933.” FRASER, June 13, 1933. https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/title/home-owners-loan-act-1933-850.
 Burke, Lindsey. “Housing Redlining and Its Lingering Effects on Education Opportunity.” The Heritage Foundation. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://www.heritage.org/education/report/housing-redlining-and-its-lingering-effects-education-opportunity.
 “Mapping Inequality.” Digital Scholarship Lab. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=11/40.015/-75.238&mapview=graded&city=philadelphia-pa.
 Barshay, Jill. “A Decade of Research on Education Inequality in America.” The Hechinger Report, June 29, 2020. https://hechingerreport.org/a-decade-of-research-on-the-rich-poor-divide-in-education/.
 “Brown v. Board of Education .” Accessed November 3, 2022. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/347us483.
 Guastaferro, Lynette. “Why Racial Inequities in America's Schools Are Rooted in Housing Policies of the Past.” USA Today.Gannett Satellite Information Network, November 2, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/11/02/how-redlining-still-hurts-black-latino-students-public-schools-column/6083342002/.
 “Homepage.” Teaching Matters, September 20, 2022. https://www.teachingmatters.org/.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.