“Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty,”
– President Lyndon Johnson, 1965
As pointed out in an earlier blog (Education: The Biggest Loser?), this country pays considerable lip service to the issue of education. A politician, who does not say education is our greatest asset, is not very politically savvy. Education is the topic that everyone agrees is extremely important. Everyone agrees that it is not optimal for our children to be unprepared for post-secondary education, should they desire to attend. Our children should be taught necessary skills, so that they are able to make a place for themselves in the world. Having an education (be that a degree or training certificate) greatly improves earning potential.
In Leaving Children Behind, the NCLB legislation was discussed. While it seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, we have learned that it may hinder educational advancement rather than helping it. Our schools went from institutions of learning to memorization machines. Standardized testing became the all important component in public schools. “Teaching to the test” was found to be a poor way to educate and a useless measure of skills learned.
No Child Left Behind, while doing our children a horrible disservice, is not the only problem our educational system faces. It is not even the most important one. The most pressing issue, in my estimation, is funding. Does that mean we need to pour more money into education?
According to the Center for Public Education, we find that blaming the federal government is not wise. The federal government’s contribution to public education is quite minimal. It makes up, on average, approximately 9% of a school district’s budget. Federal funds are distributed through programs such as Title I, Reading First, IDEA, and school lunches. Local and state funding is tasked with the majority of K-12 educational revenue (ranging from 32%-89%). Each school district supplements their budget through various fundraisers.
At this point, it is easy to see where Johnson’s quote above becomes relevant.
Children who can afford access to excellent education will receive excellent education. No mystery there. However, impoverished children live in impoverished communities. What of them? Are all of our nation’s children being “highly educated”? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Read this article to understand how state and local budgets maintain and preserve inequality.
“The sad reality is that gross funding inequities continue to exist in this country, and too often the schools serving students with the greatest needs receive the fewest resources.” Children who grow up in low-income homes are less likely to be afforded a high quality education. Where local funding is concerned, it seems understandable. Taxable wealth (property, income) is lower in high poverty districts, thus fewer education dollars will be raised. However, the report also shows “nonproperty sources of revenues—such as income taxes, fees, and revenues from intermediate sources—are typically higher in low-poverty districts than high-poverty ones and are rarely equalized through the state aid formula.”
From the report: “Typically, we have blamed local property tax variation as the sole, or at least primary, cause of inequalities and called for greater state funding as the solution. In practice, however, we see that states providing a large share of state aid are not necessarily more equitable in their distribution of school funding.” States are funneling billions of tax payer dollars to low poverty school districts, where they are less needed. Would it not make more sense to subsidize those districts, within a state, that are low-income and poverty ridden?
“Throwing more money” at the problem will not solve it. Equal and fair distribution of money already thrown…just might.
Our nation’s problems are many. Truly ensuring that our children, all of them, have access to a high quality education; would go a long way towards solving a multitude of them. How many poor children might be capable of curing cancer, or advancing scientific discovery, or educating the youth that follow them. We could produce more citizens capable of filling jobs that require higher education. We could decrease generational welfare statistics, and quite possibly lower the percentage of Americans who need EBT (food stamp) assistance, or medical assistance. We could reduce crime. We could equalize income and wealth distribution in the system, which is sorely needed. Most importantly, we could create a more intelligent citizenry. A people able to understand complex issues. A people able to hold their government accountable.
Is there a down side to a more educated populace? I think not.