The Root and Branches of Structural School Racism in Missouri: A Story of Failure by Design and the Illusion and Hypocrisy of School Choice


Since Missouri was first admitted into the Union as a slave state, it has been hostile to the education of its Black residents. This Article examines the evolution of that hostility from 1821 through 2021 (from the most overt and blatant in the early years, to the subtler and covert in the modern era). Starting with the original total ban on the education of Black slaves to the reluctant allowance of separate but equal education for Black Missouri residents in 1865 after the Civil War and continuing with the separate but unequal policies that have thrived in the state from 1865 to 2021, Black students continue to be subjected to under-resourced educational opportunities vis-à-vis their White counterparts at both the K through 12 levels as well as in the state’s two HBCUs. The significant damage caused by this under-resourcing is now being compounded by public school privatization in the form of the false promises of “school choice,” comprised of charter schools and voucher programs that cannibalize those limited public school resources. For the vast majority of Black, low-income students and their school districts, these school choice programs do far more harm than good. And when the State was presented with an opportunity to facilitate real choice for one struggling Black school district in St. Louis County, the State manipulated that district for more than two decades in a manner that denied choice to the students in that district. This Article reveals various permutations of this dual, unequal system and suggests that intentional decisions by Missouri lawmakers for over a century are some of the key reasons Black students in the State struggle in public school systems that both historically and currently appear designed not for the success of majority Black learning institutions, but for their failure.


Structural School Racism, Missouri, School Choice



Kimberly Jade Norwood (Washington University in St. Louis)
Ronald Alan Norwood (Lewis Rice, LLC.)



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