Defunding education

Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observerin the Star-Courier, Highlands-Crosby, Texas, March 11, 2004

Remember the college student who had the assignment to argue the value of an educated population. The second question for the assignment was why is so little spent on education. Shrug?! This is a question I ask every day.

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States is one of the top spenders in education.

Yet, they rank poorly compared to the world on educational outcomes as measured by test scores on the PISA:

And education levels of adults:

Korea which spends a little over $1,000 less per student has a population with 69.8% of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 holding some degree above high school. In the United States that percent is just 50. Finland which ranks 4th on the PISA scores spends more than $3,000 less per student than the United States.

I can easily argue that more money needs to be spent more equitably on education in the United States, it clearly isn’t just the money (or isn’t the money everywhere). As Linda Darling-Hammond and Jeffrey Raikes pointed out, “Grow up in a rich neighborhood with high property taxes? You get well-funded public schools. Grow up in a poor neighborhood? The opposite is true.” In other words, it isn’t necessarily that schools are underfunded everywhere. The United States is a big diverse place. The inequality is high. In 2018 the Gini Index, a measure of income inequality, was 48.2%. A value of 0 on the Gini Index indicates perfect income equality. Extensive research shows that school funding not only varies across and within states but also within districts. Simply put some schools have access to more resources than others.

My young friend believes that this inequity is an intentional move by the elite to keep the masses down. “An uneducated society,” she argued “is easier to control. The elite policymakers pass policy that enriches themselves and their buddies so that those on the lower end of the income spectrum don’t even have a chance. They are defunding opportunity.” She may be right. Although I don’t like to think that inherently all rich people are bad, some clearly don’t care about the masses. Others seem to care, or at least appear to care, but don’t seem to truly understand the problem (see the work of the Gates Foundation’s small schools or Zuckerberg’s failed $100 million experiment in New Jersey for examples). Billionaires across the United States are happy to butt into education with little knowledge or understanding of the challenges (Letting billionaires choose our education policy with their foundations is a discussion for later). Others seem to be blissfully unaware or unwilling to do invest in reducing inequality. The poor, simply put, are not their problem.

Of course, they are. Taxes pay for welfare and school lunches and prisons, to name a few. Yet, if we invested in the future we could spend less on welfare, school lunches and prisons. I am not sure if the rich can’t see that paying a little more in taxes won’t only benefit the bottom 80% but will also benefit them in the long-run. Perhaps as my young friend pointed out, they would prefer to oppress the rest.

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