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Back to School, and to Widening Inequality

By       Message Robert B. Reich     Permalink
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Cross-posted from Robert Reich Blog

From flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/5092018790/: NCLB -- Unintended Consequences
NCLB -- Unintended Consequences
(image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)
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American kids are getting ready to head back to school. But the schools they're heading back to differ dramatically by family income.

Which helps explain the growing achievement gap between lower and higher-income children.

Thirty years ago, the average gap on SAT-type tests between children of families in the richest 10 percent and bottom 10 percent was about 90 points on an 800-point scale. Today it's 125 points.

The gap in the mathematical abilities of American kids, by income, is one of widest among the 65 countries participating in the Program for International Student Achievement.

On their reading skills, children from high-income families score 110 points higher, on average, than those from poor families. This is about the same disparity that exists between average test scores in the United States as a whole and Tunisia.

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The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn't mainly about race. In fact, the racial achievement gap has been narrowing.

It's a reflection of the nation's widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation's increasing residential segregation by income.

According to the Pew Research Center's analysis of 2010 census tract and household income data, residential segregation by income has increased during the past three decades across the United States and in 27 of the nation's 30 largest major metropolitan areas.

This matters, because a large portion of the money to support public schools comes from local property taxes. The federal government provides only about 14 percent of all funding, and the states provide 44 percent, on average. The rest, roughly 42 percent, is raised locally.

Most states do try to give more money to poor districts, but most states cut way back on their spending during the recession and haven't nearly made up for the cutbacks.

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Meanwhile, many of the nation's local real estate markets remain weak, especially in lower-income communities. So local tax revenues are down.

As we segregate by income into different communities, schools in lower-income areas have fewer resources than ever.

The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil, to the direct disadvantage of poor kids.

The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts, according to a federal advisory commission report. In some states, such as California, the ratio is more than three to one.

What are called "public schools" in many of America's wealthy communities aren't really "public" at all. In effect, they're private schools, whose tuition is hidden away in the purchase price of upscale homes there, and in the corresponding property taxes.

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http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.


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