Hints on How To Pay for the Future

The US spends far more on rich students than on poor students. No other advanced nation does that.

All the other advanced nations fund rich and poor students equally, and some of them give poor students more to help them overcome the educational limitations that come from having less wealth. Only in the US are poorer students punished for their lack of wealth. Obviously, this tends to perpetuate the inequality that has come to characterize our country.

No other advanced nation
spends more on rich
than poor students.

Every politician in the country gives lip service to the idea that children are the future, and their education of paramount importance. But the funding of public education as currently established is inherently unfair, unequal, and undemocratic. Not only are there no apparent plans to change that, virtually no politician is even aware of the primarily unjust way we fund our students.

The reason for our unjust school funding is that much of our local school revenue comes from property tax. Richer districts collect more property tax because the rich have more property. This factor alone can account for the discrepancy in funding between rich and poor districts.

School funds come from property tax.
The rich have more property.

There’s an even bigger problem, though.

Homeowners deduct their local property taxes from their federal taxes. In essence, they give this money to the state and local tax collectors to fund the richer school districts instead of the IRS to fund all students. This lost school funding amounts to $27-billion, which would pay the federal government’s entire K-12 budget. That money never becomes federal revenue, and therefore never reaches the schools, except as inequality-causing local property tax. [See: NYT, November 7, 2013, A Tax Subsidy for Richer Schools, by Eduardo Porter]

This matters a whole lot. It’s yet another element of the social distortion that increasingly characterizes our country and guarantees a shrinking future for the entire nation. Consider where most of the nation’s workers come from. Hint: it’s not the wealthy ruling class. It is obvious, therefore, that the nation’s competitiveness suffers because of funding inequality for students.

National competitiveness suffers
because of funding inequality.

Some 90% of US students attend public schools, and the economic inequality we have cultivated for a long time is felt especially acutely in schools of poorer neighborhoods. The large majority of higher education students also attend publicly supported colleges, which have faced increasingly difficult funding conditions for decades.

And the other 10% of the students? Most probably they attend private schools, most of which are very expensive, and quite impossible for poor students. This guarantees that they will be accepted into the better colleges, placed on a career path that will maintain the family wealth that put them there in the first place, and maintain the status quo of inequality.

As usual, it is not the rich we need to worry about, but the poor. Are the rich smarter than the poor? Perhaps, but we won’t know that until every child in the country has the same educational opportunity, and we have artfully arranged educational funding so that won’t happen.


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