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14 April 2017

Stop Moving and Start Fighting: Education Funding and Social Justice

This post started as a rant against my friends and colleagues who move to adjacent communities because the schools are "better." Let me set aside, for the purposes of this post, that their estimation of what is "better" is at best objectively wrong and at worst implicitly racist. I realized well into my writing that I was falling into the same trap that they were: mistaking an institutional issue as an individual trouble. The problem with primary and secondary education as we do it in the U.S., inasmuch as there is a problem, is that we fund it at the local level, that is, mostly with property taxes. Unsurprisingly, places that have higher property values (i.e. more rich people) have more resources for public education, while places that have lower property values (i.e. more poor people and, relatedly, more people of color) have fewer resources for public education. This is the root of all of the problems. Imagine if any other public good were maldistributed in such an obvious way. Live in a wealthy community? You get cleaner air and water, better policing, etc. (Oh, you say these things are actually distributed in this way? How 'bout that.) The solution to this problem is not necessarily to shame individuals who (have the ability to) choose to move their families to take advantage of these inequalities but, instead, to remove the incentives to this type of behavior by restructuring the way that we fund education. Specifically, all school districts should be funded in proportion to the number of students they enroll, not in proportion to the wealth of the people who live in their arbitrary borders.

I want to be clear in that I'm not absolving my friends and colleagues of their decisions to move to adjacent communities for supposed educational reasons. Ideally, they would remain in their originating communities and mobilize their social capital toward the ends of improving local education for not only their own kids but also the kids of parents who have less social and economic capital. 

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