Unequal funding disservices students in poor, urban schools

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Not everyone receives a quality education in the United States. Many public schools are underfunded, especially those in poor, urban areas. I am concerned with the means by which public schools receive funding, and how location inherently promotes the success of some schools over others. I believe that our country’s prosperity depends on education, but equality of education is not given the attention it deserves in this country. Our representatives should allocate more resources toward education, especially toward poor areas, in order to equalize opportunity.

I tutor students at Vashon High School, where more kids dropped out of school during the 2014-2015 school year than graduated. This school is attended almost exclusively by African-American students who come from low-income families. Despite receiving extra funding through the Full Service Program, which provides nutritional, social and educational assistance, Vashon still lacks the capacity to provide an education on par with other schools around the St. Louis area.

Public schools derive much of their funding from local property taxes. I went to a suburban school in St. Louis County. Because the residents where I went to school own homes more expensive than those from which Vashon receives its funding, the school district can hire teachers with higher levels of education. The school district retains proficient teachers by offering higher-paying salaries and providing a multitude of services absent from Vashon.

Noticing this difference in my education compared to those of students attending Vashon, I realize my chances to succeed were much higher than theirs. I had more opportunities because of the wealth of my community. Students from poorer areas should not miss out on opportunities that I was afforded because of the situation into which I was born. They deserve more funding.

Since the early 1970s, almost every state has faced at least one lawsuit over how it pays for schools, and whether the result is fair or adequate. In the U.S. Supreme Court case San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the plaintiffs argued that any school-funding system dependent on local property tax revenue is fundamentally unfair to poorer districts and is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In a split 5-4 decision, the court said the federal government has no obligation to enforce equal funding and left these decisions up to the states. Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in his dissent that he could not “accept such an emasculation of the Equal Protection Clause in the context of this case.”

Funding differs from state to state. Some states provide more funding for poorer districts, while others do little to help. Even in poorer districts, the numbers can be deceiving. Despite greater funding, they still need more assistance. Students in these districts lack access to certain goods and services because of their family’s income, and the school needs to help them, otherwise their education suffers. It’s difficult to learn when you’re hungry.

Many schools in poor districts cannot satisfy the needs of their students. They cannot provide students with the quality of education conducive to success. This is not the best education our nation can provide. An insufficient education leads to more high school dropouts, higher unemployment, more people on welfare and medicaid and more people imprisoned. These costs on society outweigh the costs of a quality education.

Our society needs an educated population in order to be the most effective. Whether it is economic or political, engagement with one another increases in frequency and efficiency the more educated we are. We contribute more to the economy and make smarter decisions about our elected officials. In the end, our society benefits greatly.

Where you are born should not determine the education that you receive. The odds should not be stacked against you from birth. We need a more equitable way to fund our education system.