For all of its efforts, America has not done a very good job of removing any sort of hereditary monarchy. Yes, there is no formal royalty. However, all areas of America’s leadership are plagued by ruling families whose advantages are passed down to their own.
It has been shown many times that a child’s expected tax bracket is determined in large part by their parents’. Social and economic mobility occurs, but it’s rare. We hear the rags-to-riches stories because they are anomalous; the vast majority of poor people are born poor and live poor. There are many sources of this inequity, but one of the most apparent is the broken way in which education is funded.
Public schools in America are largely funded by local property taxes. The idea is that families that pay into their system deserve to have access to more resources for their children. Additionally, because school quality is a huge draw to families moving in, this gives positive reinforcement for communities who improve their school system. Better schools mean a more attractive neighborhood, which means higher property values.
This works in a kind of snapshot of the country. Looking at the current state of things, we should reward hardworking towns and schools. While not the focus here, elite private schooling also follows this line of thinking. The problem is, we also have to move through time with this. And once we step through a few generations, it all starts to break down.
The positive reinforcement comes with a sort of comparatively negative reinforcement. Places that don’t or can’t invest properly in education end up with worse-educated children. Because education has a huge impact on earnings, these children tend to grow up with lesser-paying jobs in the same communities. Their children, then, are subject to the same. Businesses don’t want to spur economic development in a poorly educated area, and rich families don’t want to move into a bad school system.
This all starts from one missed generation of education funding, which can come from anywhere. It’s why cities that face an unexpected depression fail to recover. Windham has been dealing with a failing school system for decades, and the hints of it started when the mills left. It’s why Alabama and Mississippi are among both the poorest and least educated states.
The answer to this is to delocalize public school funding. Obviously, this is not a popular idea for the wealthy. Redistribution of wealth seldom is. However, the benefits in public education to those who need it most is worth something. There is no reason to push children into a lack of opportunity just because they didn’t have the fortune of being born in the right neighborhood. In the same way Democratic candidates debate on and on about healthcare, the same should be going on for public education.
On a similar note, while the candidates dwell on bussing and desegregation, this is what they should be arguing for. One of the reasons that desegregation is still such an issue is because of pearl-clutching people not wanting to share their wealth with minorities. All of the issues with public school funding disproportionately affect these communities.
Democracy only works when the populace is properly educated. By design, this is not the case. In order to realize its goal of being the land of opportunity, the United States must do a better job at ensuring that its opportunities are available to all. Fixing education by restructuring public school funding is an important step in ensuring this for generations to come.
Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.