Why Shortchanging America’s Poorest Students is Bad for Democracy and the Economy
Being shortchanged by someone leaves a sour taste in your mouth and depending on how unfairly you were treated, you may never look at that person in the same way ever again.
Early in life, many of us are taught to treat everyone fairly because despite our differences, America is a place where ‘all men are created equal.’ But, as an educator, how do I promote the idea of equality to middle or high school students who are well-informed about the gross funding disparities between richer schools and less advantaged schools? Suddenly, the notion of equality does not seem to hold much weight because if we’re all created as equal than why are America’s poorest children being shortchanged by the public education system?
I’m concerned that an already inadequately funded public education system will surely crumble under a Trump presidency. The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary demonstrates how America’s children are being sold out for millions in campaign contributions. The political corruption machine that is the Trump Administration has presented a budget to eliminate federal funds for initiatives that support after-school programs for students and professional development for teachers. While the bulk of school funding comes from state and local governments, the federal government has an important role to play in supporting equal educational opportunities for every child, especially given the resource gaps created by state governments’ inequitable school finance systems. Needless to say, the consequences of continuing to shortchange underfunded school districts are what you might expect — they’re mostly bad.
Upholding our democratic ideals and protecting upward mobility
Every child–regardless of skin color, ethnicity, gender, class, linguistic and disability status–deserves equal opportunity. America can no longer be called the land of opportunity when a child’s zip code determines whether he or she will have access to a quality education. We cannot continue to believe that everyone has a fair chance of getting ahead in life when we do not fully equip every child with the skills to do so. It is shameful that many of America’s neediest students don’t have access to high school courses needed to meet the minimum admissions criteria to get into their state’s flagship public college or university. Even with fewer resources, many educators and professionals in the nation’s poorly funded schools are doing their best to provide students with the skills needed to survive in and outside of the classroom.
Of course, some students from disadvantaged communities will defy the odds despite the lack of educational resources. But the overall upward mobility of historically disadvantaged groups will continue to be blocked because of inadequate training and education opportunities. Poverty is complex and there is no single pathway to escape its clutches. However, we already know that a high-quality education is one of the key ways for low-income youth to lift themselves out of poverty, enabling them to obtain skills to generate wealth for themselves, their families, communities and for the country.
Maintaining a strong U.S. economy and promoting social cohesion
Our nation’s ability to compete in an increasingly globalized and technology-driven economy requires that every student receives the finest education. Researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce forecast that nearly two-thirds of all job openings will require some form of postsecondary education or training in 2020. Essentially, a postsecondary degree has become the new high-school diploma. Yet, students of color and low-income students face a range of financial and institutional barriers when navigating college, largely contributing to these students’ lower postsecondary degree attainment.
Every child should be prepared to attend and succeed in college regardless of whether or not they choose to pursue a postsecondary degree. Anything less, will not cut it — especially given that other countries are making substantial investments in educating their young people to be competitive. If our country continues to underinvest and privatize the public education system — which is the direction of the current administration — then we must prepare ourselves for some dire consequences such as faltering economic performance and failing political systems. We are already witnessing the effects in our increasingly divided country between the “haves” and “have-nots”. This will only intensify as the nation continues to split along socioeconomic lines.
We Already Know What To Do:
Imagine how many potential Sonia Sotomayor(s), John Lewis(s), Ava DuVernay(s), Howard Schultz(s), Meryl Streep(s) or LeBron James(s) are never given a fair chance to achieve their highest potential because the schools in their zip codes are poorly funded.
We have known for decades what the federal, state and local governments should do to stop shortchanging poor students (e.g. reduce the over-reliance on local property taxes to fund schools, allocate a larger portion of state funding to fully finance education and ensure that the school districts with the highest percentages of students living in poverty receive adequate funding to meet those students’ needs).
Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, has coined a phrase that I’ve started using to describe this funding crisis in education: “America is not a poor country and we need to stop acting like one.”
It is simply unacceptable that our country continues to shortchange millions of students who will make up a significant portion of America’s future workforce and citizenry. Investing in the education of all students is a smart investment for the country’s future democratic and economic sustainability.