Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Guh.

Kind of a rough day.

In class we talked briefly about Greg Michie's book "Holler If You Hear Me," and then watched the first part of a video about school funding with Bill Moyers. The video compared school districts in rural, urban, and suburban Ohio, and demonstrated how the current system of school funding has an immediate and direct impact on the lives of students. I have a few thoughts on this, but I need to preface this with a little background.

For all my liberal tendencies, when it comes to a person's moolah, I'm pretty conservative. I'm not a huge fan of higher tax rates for the wealthy; I think that's fundamentally unfair. I'd be very interested in a flat tax with provisions for the very, very poor - but generally I think that people are rich because they've worked hard to get that way. Yes, yes, we can always find examples of people who haven't earned their money or have exploited (personally or systemically) other people along the way. Those people should be shot. But generally? People have earned their money through hard work, physical, intellectual, or otherwise. Not sure they should be punished for that.

But I'm starting to see a few problems inherent in the economics of our education system, and I'm a wee upset by it all. In fact, now that I understand the basics, I'm a full-on Socialist when it comes to funding for public schools.

It breaks down like so: roughly 44% comes from local taxes (largely property tax), 49% comes from states themselves, and 7% comes from the feds. These numbers come from my professor and will probably vary a little bit by district, but yes, only 7% of public school funding comes from the feds. The rest is left up to states and municipalities.

The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of public education, anywhere. So that measly 7% doesn't surprise me too much, and provides some interesting perspective on the whole "No Child Left Behind" discourse, too. States have a vested interest in educating their populations and will therefore be willing to chip in some cash. No surprise there.

What kills me, and what should kill you too, is that "local municipalities" thing. I'm no economist, but a funding system based on property tax will cause disparity: if properties are highly valued, the taxes will be higher and the schools will get more money. In areas with low property values, the opposite occurs. This point was made obvious by today's film: an urban district was only able to spend $4000 per student while a suburban district spent $18,000. The result? Exactly what you'd expect: crappy, decaying schools in inner cities, gleaming "educational villages" in the suburbs.

Wealthy, attentive white kids eating well, getting exercise, and exposed to art, music, and technology on a daily basis. Poor, worn out minority kids on meal programs and trying to learn in wretched classroom conditions, and some of them had never touched a computer. The schools in some districts had code violations all over the place, but legislation was passed to ignore those pesky water leaks and impending structural problems because that was easier than getting funding to repair or build anew. And my friends, if you think for one second that a child's environment has no bearing on his or her capacity to learn, you are a moron.

In fact, let's switch schools for a year - hell, a month - and see how many suburban kids aren't so excited about their education anymore. Let's see how many minority and/or lower socio-economic students are suddenly driven to succeed in school.

We're setting up the kids in depressed communities to fail, systemically. It's almost like we want them to.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rosellen said...

So, Dear Readership, how can an individual make a difference with this inequity?

9:10 AM  
Blogger david said...

become a lobbyist, and try and get legislation passed that increases federal funding for poorer districts.

hit bill and melinda gates up for some money and/or digital resources.

vouchers for an entire inner city population.

lastly, become a teacher, like paul, and teach at a disadvantaged school.

rosellen, i think we're seeing the genesis of a teacher-activist here. and that's a darn good thing.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Steamboat Lion said...

An interesting comparative study is Australia (which is handy, since that's the education system I am familiar with). Public schools are entirely funded by States, so you don't get the phenomenon of the quality of your public education being determined by where you live.

This has an interesting flow on effect - inner cities don't hollow out as people flee to the suburbs in search of a decent education for their kids. In fact inner city properties are worth far more than the suburbs.

Similarly, universities are funded by the Federal government, and private universities are almost non-existent. Again their is an interesting flow on effect. Kids don't go away to school because the colleges across the nation are all pretty much the same.

6:39 PM  

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