Historically, schools in the United States have been governed at the local level by elected school boards, and finances have been raised primarily through local property taxes. While local control theoretically allows for greater responsiveness to local concerns, it does not take into account the vast inequality among and between communities in the United States, nor does it take into account the ways in which poverty can limit the ability of parents in particularly to influence decision making in public schools that serve their children. Drawing on the experience of Oakland, California, this article explores the ways in which poverty and racial discrimination limit the effectiveness of local control as a mechanism for school accountability. It also examines the factors that constrain the ability of schools to be responsive to the needs of the communities that they serve. In making the case for greater parental empowerment in school governance, the article explores how social capital and civic capacity building can enhance the democratic possibilities of local control and help to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty.
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