Taxing Inequality: The Rise of District Property Taxation and the Making of Educational Inequality
Matthew Gardner Kelly

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Pennsylvania State University

Primary Discipline

History of Education
When state governments use district-level taxes to finance their public education systems, they connect the unequal distribution of wealth with the distribution of education funding. Taxing Inequality provides a history of this practice, its early alternatives, and the contestation that has surrounded it since the creation of public school systems in the United States. Although the disparities created by local financing are well known, its history is poorly understood. Americans experimented with a number of different mechanisms for financing the creation and expansion of public education systems in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taxing Inequality: The Rise of District Property Taxation and the Making of Educational Inequality provides a history of district property taxation and its alternatives. With California as its focal point, the project shows how district property taxation won against alternative approaches to education funding during the early years of American public schooling. In the process, the project offers a new history of the development of public education in the United States.
About Matthew Gardner Kelly
Matthew Gardner Kelly is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his M.A. (history) and Ph.D. (history of education and educational policy) from Stanford University, where he was also the Yu-Ly Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow from 2015 to 2018. Kelly’s scholarship examines the history and politics of education funding in the United States, with a special focus on the intersections between school funding policies and inequities of race, ethnicity, income, and residence. His research has received awards from Division F of the American Educational Research Association, the History of Education Society, and the National Education Finance Academy. His work has been published in various academic journals, including AERA Open, Educational Researcher, History of Education Quarterly, and Teachers College Record. His writing has also appeared in popular media outlets, including Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Before entering graduate school, Kelly was a middle school teacher in New York City. At Penn State, he teaches courses in educational leadership and school finance.

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