Sunday, September 28, 2008

Equality of Public Education

As stated in my previous blog, one of the basic arguments offered in support of public education is the idea that it provides an equal opportunity for students to secure an education. Is that true or is it propaganda? School boards pay providers of products and services with tax revenue. In Ohio, schools are funded by property taxes. Revenue, therefore, depends on whether you live in a rural, urban, or suburban community. Because suburban property is generally more valuable than either rural or urban property, suburban schools are often extravagantly funded, while urban and rural schools operate on tighter budgets. If governments were really interested in equality of education, you would expect suburban schools to be subsidizing rural and urban schools. However, there is little political support for that kind of redistribution. If you earn a decent income, you have an incentive to purchase a home in suburbia, where property values are higher. If you have young children you also have an incentive to move away from urban cores and rural areas where school funding is much lower. If you are a teacher, you have an incentive to teach in a suburban school where salaries and benefits are usually more generous. Historically, public schools compete with private schools. But private schools cannot compete with generously funded public schools. Therefore, most of the surviving private schools tend to be located in suburban areas where there are dysfunctional public schools. In fact, if you live out in the suburbs, you are more likely to be able to afford to send your kids to private schools or home school. Eventually, the market for urban private schools dries up and parents are stuck with public schools. When suburban public schools decline, parents can send their kids to private schools or homeschool. When suburban schools begin to decline and parents send their kids to private schools, they (along with with parents whose children have already graduated) grow weary of escalating property taxes and vote down levies. This leads to over-crowded suburban schools that that cut back on faculty (usually art and music teachers go first), library services, special education, bus service, and sports etc. Fortunately, those education-minded suburban parents that moved out to the suburbs in pursuit of better schools have options that urban parents do not. But urban parents are not only disappointed in the quality of their new schools, they are left without any private alternatives. The ultimate irony is that Americans tend to equate quality of education with generous funding. Unfortunately, there is little correlation between quality of education and how much the district pays its various providers. But there is a definite correlation between generous funding and tax rates.

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