Fun Fact: Between 2005 and 2017, the federal government withheld $580 billion it had promised to spend on students from poor families and students with disabilities.
Fun Fact: Over that same period, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people ballooned by $1.57 trillion.
So, rich people, consider this the bill.
A new report called “Confronting the Education Debt” commissioned by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) details the shortfall in minute detail.
- $347 billion owed to educate low-income students most of whom are children of color.
- $233 billion owed to provide services for students with disabilities.
And this is just the shortfall of the last dozen years! That’s just money due to children who recently graduated or are currently in the school system!
We’ve been cheating our children out of the money we owe them for more than half a century!
Federal education funding levels were first established in 1965 as part of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the landmark education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
That law, which has become little more than a boondoggle for the standardized testing and school privatization industries, originally was passed to address inequality in America’s education funding.
Now this report from a coalition of groups including the Education Justice Research and Organizing Center, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Center for Popular Democracy and the Action Center on Race and the Economy points out the multifarious ways we have failed to live up to the standards we set in that original legislation and beyond.
One of the most glaring examples of neglect is Title I funding.
The Johnson administration admitted that schools with a high concentration of students living below the poverty line needed extra support to succeed at the same levels as students from middle class or more affluent backgrounds. So the law promised to provide an additional 40 percent for each poor child above what the state already spent per pupil.
And then it promptly failed to fund it. In 1965 and every year since!
These are not just numbers. With this money, high poverty schools could provide:
“health and mental health services for every student, including dental and vision services; and
a full-time nurse in every Title I school; and
a full-time librarian for every Title I school; and
a full-time additional counselor in every Title I school, or
a full-time teaching assistant in every Title I classroom.”
A decade later, in 1975, the same thing happened with The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Congress told local districts they’d have to do more to help disabled students succeed academically. However, doing so costs money. Lawmakers admitted that disabled students cost more to educate and that local districts often struggle to find the funding to help them succeed.
Once again, Congress pledged to pay up to 40 percent of that additional cost, with local and state funds covering the remainder.
Once again, Congress failed to fund it.
STATE AND LOCAL FAILURE
But it’s not just the federal government that has shirked its duties to school children.
State and local governments also stiffed generations of students out of the resources they deserved – especially if those students have black or brown skin.
Beside the federal government, public schools are funded by their local municipalities and the state. Local governments pay for about 45 percent of school budgets.
However, since most of this allotment is determined by property tax revenues, it ensures the poor get fewer resources than the rich. Kids from rich neighborhoods get lots of resources. Kids from poor areas get the scraps. Inequality is built into the funding formula to ensure that students don’t start out on an even playing field and that economic handicaps are passed on from one generation to the next.
State governments are no better. They provide about 47 percent of school budgets.
As such, they are in the position to right the wrongs of the local community by offsetting the inequality of local governments – but only 11 states do so. Twenty states close their eyes and provide the same funding to each school – rich and poor alike – regardless of need or what each community can afford to provide for its own children. But 17 states are even worse. They actually play Robin Hood in reverse – they funnel more money to wealthier districts than to poor ones.
As a result, schools nationwide serving mostly students of color and/or poor children spend less on each child than districts serving mostly white and/or affluent children.
And while our federal, state and local governments have failed to meet their responsibilities to students, they have required fewer taxes from business and industry.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was more than 90 percent. Today it is 37 percent.
Congress just passed a series of whooping tax cuts that go into effect in 2019. More than half of the benefit of these cuts will go to the richest five percent of taxpayers. The law is expected to cost the federal treasury as much as $1.5 trillion in lost revenues over the next decade.
Nearly every state levies a much greater share of taxes from low- and middle-income families than from the wealthy.
And that’s before we even start talking about corporations!
While the US federal corporate tax is 35 percent, the effective tax rate that corporations pay after loopholes and deductions is only about 14 percent. This costs the federal government at least $181 billion in annual revenue, based on 2013 estimates by the Government Accountability Office. Local and state corporate tax and abatement programs make it even worse.
This is a choice. We are not requiring the rich to pay their fair share.
Instead of investing in ways to help educate children, one of the only areas we’ve increased funding is incarceration.
The private prison industry is booming, fueled in part by a lack of opportunities in schools.
According to the report:
“In 2017, the National Association of School Resource Officers claimed that school policing was the fastest-growing area of law enforcement. The school safety and security industry was reported to be a $2.7 billion market as of 2015. Most of that $2.7 billion is public money now enriching the private security industry instead of providing real supports to students.”
According to the US Department of Education, 1.6 million students go to a school that employs a law enforcement officer but not a guidance counselor.
That is not an unalterable economic reality. It is a failure of priorities. It is the mark of a society that is not willing to help children but will swoop in to punish them if they get out of line.
Finally, the report identifies school privatization as a contributing factor to this systemic neglect.
Charter schools are legal in 44 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. They have “systematically stripped public school budgets through the creation of parallel structures of privately-operated, publicly-funded schools.”
Cost studies in San Diego, Los Angeles, Nashville, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Durham and other localities have come to the same conclusion: “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.”
Yet Congress continues to appropriate millions of dollars to the Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), which funds new charter start-ups and expansions. The program has a budget of $500 million this year, alone. It is the largest single backer of charter schools in the nation.
According to the report, “In other words, the U.S. Department of Education is operating a program that directly undermines public schools.”
But the report isn’t just about what’s wrong. It outlines how we can make it right.
It outlines three policy initiatives:
1) “Full funding of Title I and IDEA to target federal support to low-income children and students with disabilities.
2) The creation of 25,000 Sustainable Community Schools by 2025.
3) A new focus for the U.S. Department of Education, on ensuring and incentivizing equity in public schools across the country.”
And we can pay for it by:
A. “Make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
- Rescind the 2017 tax code changes, which overwhelmingly favor the top 1 percent of income earners.
- Close the federal carried interest loophole, a step that could increase federal revenues by between $1.8 and $2 billion annually or, according to some researchers, by as much as $18 billion annually.
- If the carried interest loophole is not closed at the federal level, states can impose a surcharge on carried interest income at the state level, raising millions for state budgets.
- Enact so-called “millionaire’s taxes” that increase the tax rate on a state’s highest earners. New York and California have already passed such law.
B. Require wealthy corporations to pay their fair share.
End or reduce corporate tax breaks that cost the federal government at least $181 billion annually.
Reduce state and local subsidies to businesses for economic development projects and hold school funding immune from tax abatements.
Enforce and strengthen programs like Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to ensure that wealthy institutions pay their fair share towards local budgets.
C. Divest from the school-to-prison pipeline.
- School safety and security is now a $2.7 billion industry. Much of that money is public money, going to profitable corporations instead of schools.
- Divest from expensive security systems, metal detectors and legions of school-based police officers and instead invest in counselors, health and mental-health providers and other supports that make schools safer.
D. Place a moratorium on new charter schools and voucher programs.
- A moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program would free up $500 million annually, which could be used to support the creation of Sustainable Community schools.”
The executive summary concludes with the following statistic.
Even a 10 percent increase in funding for each high poverty student maintained through 12 years of public school can dramatically change the likelihood of academic success. It can boost the chances that students will graduate high school, achieve 10 percent higher earnings as adults and a 6 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty, according to a 2015 report.
“Ten percent is pocket-change for a nation that has orchestrated the rise of an unmatched billionaire class. In the richest nation in the world, it is possible to fully fund all our public schools, and to provide Black, Brown and low-income children with the educational resources and additional supports and services they need to achieve at the highest levels.”
The facts are in, folks.
We can no longer gripe and complain about a public education system we fail to support without recognizing the cause. We have failed to meet our responsibilities to our children – especially our children of color.
The solution is simple – equity.
We need to demand the rich do the right thing.
We cannot achieve greatness as a nation when wealth and privilege continue to shirk their duties and our lawmakers do little more than enable greed and corruption.
The bill is here.
Time to settle up.
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