Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Social Relations Spatially Fixed: Construction and Maintenance of School Districts in San Antonio, Texas

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Social Relations Spatially Fixed: Construction and Maintenance of School Districts in San Antonio, Texas

Article excerpt

In 2003 the State Supreme Court of New York ruled that the state had shortchanged New York City schools by not spending enough money to provide their students with a sound, basic education as guaranteed by the state Constitution. Although the ruling was written for New York City, other urban districts, including Buffalo and Rochester, were predicted to align themselves with New York City and against "those [schools] in districts (mostly suburban) with low percentages of students in poverty and high levels of income and property wealth" (New York State Department of Education 1999, vi).

In 2004 the 250th District Court in Texas ruled that "the current funding capacity of the Texas school finance system, in conjunction with the inequitable access to revenue in the system, does not provide property-poor districts with sufficient access to revenue" (West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District et al. v. Shirley Neeley et al., No. GV-100528 [250th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex. 2004], FOF 294). The court continues: "The property-poor Edgewood Intervenors lack adequate funds for, and do not have substantially equal access to[,] funds for school facilities, and therefore do not have all the facilities essential to providing students a learning environment in which to attain a suitable and adequate education" (FOF 298). Findings show "great discrepancy in the overall performance of students generally, and those with special needs, particularly LEP [limited English proficiency] and economically disadvantaged students. Those results also show great discrepancies between White and minority student populations" (FOF 75). Under this funding system, the state relies primarily on local funds raised largely through local school-district property taxes to finance public education.

Texas and New York are not alone; between 1970 and 2003 forty-four states filed more than 140 cases arguing that unacceptable funding disparities between school districts may violate many constitutional protections (National Education Association 2003). The implicit assumptions about geography are of interest here. In each of these cases, school districts are understood as timeless, independent entities; they are the "bedrock upon which to rest explanation" (Barnes 1989, 300). Statistics, stories, and maps explain the success and failure of various school districts relative to others. In this way, each school district, whether property rich or property poor, is understood as the source of its own identity, its own problems, and its own solutions; they are absolute spaces and as such exist separate from one another and apart from that which they contain.

Since the 1970s we geographers have begun to reconceptualize space, preferring to understand it theoretically as relational and dynamic, as opposed to absolute and static. We have borrowed heavily from those reconsidering personal identity and the construction of political subjects (Massey 1994, 1995a, 1995b, 2005) to inform these new ideas on the production of space and place. Yet while we make theoretical advances, much of our world remains encoded and organized into absolute spaces. School districts are an example of such absolute spaces. Here I introduce and explore a situation in which our intellectual efforts are well ahead of our political abilities. The historical analysis of the creation and maintenance of a series of school districts--the administrative entities that lie at the heart of the education finance debate in the United States--shows how and why these spaces were constructed in particular configurations at particular moments in the past. I suggest that significant connections exist between the conditions under which school districts were formed and concretized and their unequal ability to provide a sound education today. I outline the creation of a particular series of inner-city and suburban school districts in Bexar County, Texas, including the city of San Antonio. …

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