Selling out schools - How Democrats & Republicans are bailing on the “great equalizer”
1. Unequal Funding Formulas
As a 2011 U.S. Department of Education report documented, “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding” leaving “students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” This inequity is further exacerbated by local property-tax-based education funding formulas that often generate far more resources for wealthy high-property-value school districts than for destitute low-property-value enclaves. Inequality also intensified by devious new taxpayer-subsidized scholarship programs that, according to the New York Times, “have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children” in traditional public schools.
2. Vouchers & Charter Schools
Stanford University’s landmark study of charters found that while “17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts” — meaning that, in total, charters actually harm overall student achievement (those results were corroborated by the Education Department’s National Center on Education Statistics). Likewise, data from the nation’s largest voucher system prove that voucher-subsidized students do not systemically outperform students in traditional public school systems.
3. Fee-Based Public Schools
In Kansas, for instance, one school district has created a $90 across-the-board “participation fee” for all students in order to fund extracurricular activities. In Maryland, it’s special fees for Advanced Placement biology courses. And perhaps worst of all, in Colorado’s largest school district, administrators are throwing kids off school buses until their parents pay a stiff transportation fee.
The move to such regressive fees has been prompted by the conservative movement’s success in draining government of revenues; anti-tax politicians unwilling to embrace new levies; and communities refusing to embrace measures to make up for budget shortfalls. Left without resources, local school administrators have thus resorted to fees. As one Maryland school official put it: “The reality is that the money has to come from somewhere.”
4. Higher Education Tuition Increases
For much the same reason K-12 school administrators are moving their schools to fee-based models, public universities have been jacking up tuition rates at a pace that far outstrips inflation. In just the last year, for example, tuition at these institutions rose a whopping 8.3 percent as universities sought to make up for legislatures’ huge reductions in higher education funding.
At the same time, the New York Times reports that both private and public college scholarships have been cut. Additionally, as both Mitt Romney’s Wall Street-centric student loan initiative and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget prove, federal loans and grants would only become more anemic in a Republican-dominated Washington.
The aggregate result of all this is to make access to higher education even more driven by economic privilege than it has been in the past. If your parents are wealthy and can pay ever higher tuition, you will have access to higher education, which gives you a better chance of higher wages. But if your parents aren’t wealthy and therefore can’t follow Mitt Romney’s request to lend you money, you either can’t go to college and will miss out on those opportunities for career advancement, or you are forced to assume crushing student debt (No doubt, free college in other industrialized nations is a big part of why those other nations have higher rates of social mobility and lower rates of economic inequality than the United States).
5. Differential Tuition Rates based on Major
In 21st century America, math, science and business majors often make more money in the job market than their peers in other majors. In that sense, majoring in such subjects can be a means of moving up the economic ladder.
Unfortunately, more and more public universities are instituting regressive fees on those students who want to pursue those majors. As USA Today recently reported:
A growing number of public universities are charging higher tuition for math, science and business programs…
More than 140 public universities now use “differential tuition” plans, up 19% since 2006, according to research from Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute. That number is increasing as states cut higher-education spending and schools try to pay for expensive technical programs.
A reminder: The People’s Record virtual book club on Education & Capitalism will begin on June 2.