May 11, 2010

Why not just fund schools a different way?

The poor will always be with us. What a lot of social policy strives to achieve is that the poor are more of a random, changing aggregate and not a static, related and identifiable group. Unfortunately there is lots of evidence that poverty is persistent. Here is some American discussion of that issue showing how race, housing, education all contribute to poverty. One of the peculiar American aspects of this discussion is the implicit identification of "urban" with "poor" and "troubled." In a lot of American academic and policy discussion this language flows quite naturally, as if it were just natural that inner cities (urban) were poorer than suburbs.

Some of the policy discussion that follows is then all about moving the people. Thus in the 1970s school children began being bussed long distances to school to pursue racial integration. And still today. However the explicit goal of racially integrated schools is less common, giving way to the goal of giving children in areas with poor schools the opportunity to go to better schools. Laudable goal, and perhaps the least worst method possible in the circumstances. The other way to move people is to move their residences, so American research on race and poverty often comes to focus on how to reduce housing segregation.

The goals here are worthy, but one thing I don't quite understand is why there isn't more effort to substitute state for local funding of schools. Money is fungible and moves across city borders somewhat more easily than people. The local control of schools is long standing in American education, but that doesn't make it right for the future.

It's the kiss of death to any suggestion for American reform to say that "other countries" do something, but it really is true that in other comparable countries with problems of race and poverty, some of it is mitigated by the education system that directs resources from richer to poorer areas through state/province or national taxes.

Posted by eroberts at May 11, 2010 10:05 PM