Stealing Education


While most state constitutions include provisions that indicate a commitment to equal access to education within one state, that commitment remains unfulfilled. This Article shines a light on a practice that has been overlooked by those concerned about school district inequality, but that contributes to this incongruity: a phenomenon I call “stealing education.” A parent “steals” education when he falsifies a child’s residence to take advantage of a school district’s schools. Stealing education also refers to the legal infrastructure that allows for criminal or civil punishment.

In this Article, I argue that stealing education laws contribute to the apparatus of race-class opportunity hoarding, where a race-class-privileged community sequesters valuable resources to the exclusion of another race-class-subordinated community. I show how stealing education laws structure and perpetuate stratified school districts between residents and nonresidents and describe how many supporters of the laws use racist master narratives to justify the unequal distribution of rewards. The task of rationalizing the legal apparatus that denies equal educational opportunity to nonresidents is easier when supporters can appeal to “common sense” explicit racist narratives and dog whistles of inferior and undeserving Black people and Black children.

This Article focuses on one suburban-urban school district boundary that separates a majority- White school from a majority-Black school to highlight how some supporters of this structure justify this unequal system. I show how the subordinating effects of the stealing education apparatus mirror Brown-era race and class segregation. Stealing education is a perfectly legal mechanism by which to subordinate poor Black children, their families, and their communities.

About the Author

Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.