Designed to Fail: Why Racial Equity in School Funding is So Hard to Achieve
Roseann Liu

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Wesleyan University

Primary Discipline

In 2016, a study revealed racial bias in Pennsylvania’s school funding system. Studies like this have brought renewed attention and urgency to the issue of how to create equitable school finance systems. Some scholars have focused on finding the best models for school funding (e.g., using performance-based systems). Others have examined the best legal arguments for winning school finance lawsuits. However, few studies have focused on the actions of school funding influencers — i.e., lawmakers, advocates, and lawyers — including the strategies they deploy to change school funding systems and the impact of their work. As a result, the existing literature overemphasizes the technical and procedural aspects of achieving school funding equity, and underestimates the political and ideological challenges that school funding influencers face. Without an assessment of the actions of school funding influencers, the literature fails to explain why even the “best” approaches often fall short. This ethnographic book project remedies this gap by focusing on the political, ideological and structural aspects of school funding, including the affective strategies of school funding influencers (i.e., the way notions of equity are emotionally deployed) and the effect of their work on achieving racial equity in school funding. Designed to Fail gives an inside look at the Pennsylvania state legislature, campaigns for fair funding, and school finance lawsuits to answer the question, Why is racial equity in school funding so hard to achieve?
About Roseann Liu
Roseann Liu is Assistant Professor of Education Studies at Wesleyan University. Drawing from critical race and abolitionist frameworks, she teaches and researches about structural inequalities in education, including its effects on communities of color and the organizing strategies used to enact change. She writes about the pitfalls and possibilities of progressive pedagogy, multiracial coalitions, and liberal teleologies. These interests are informed by her experiences as a student and teacher in New York City public schools. Her research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the American Educational Research Association. Her scholarship has appeared in Radical History Review, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, and Ethnography, among other journals. She engages broad audiences through producing short films and writing op-eds that have been featured in Colorlines, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Hechinger Report. Dr. Liu received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, earning a joint degree in education and anthropology.

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