As I wrote in my last post, what ails public education is mainly poverty. It therefore makes sense that if we want to improve educational outcomes, we should first address the national embarrassment --this is the world's richest nation, after all-- of the large number of school children, perhaps 25%, who live in poverty. If one in four children live in poverty, then they probably come to school hungry or sick and generally unprepared to learn.
Unfortunately, under George W. Bush, we seem to be addressing the needs of the wealthy, not the poor. The latest available data for 2005 show the income gap in America increasing. Moreover, income for the less than wealthy actually declined from the previous year:
"While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent."
Bush's tax cuts figure prominently into the widening income gap. But they also affect the poor adversely in a less direct manner.
Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argues that cuts in fringe benefits and government services hit the poor especially hard:
"He said that in addition to rising incomes and reduced taxes, the equation should take into account cuts in fringe benefits to workers and in government services that middle-class and poor Americans rely on more than the affluent. These include health care, child care and education spending."
If a government cuts its revenue drastically, as Bush has done, it can't afford to pay for those "services".* We see that happening already, at both the state and federal levels. Oregon is a case in point. Because of property tax limitations, low corporate taxation, and an increasingly regressive income tax structure --Oregon currently ranks near the top of states levying income taxes on poverty level families-- the state continually struggles to come up with an adequate budget for K-12 education or to fund state police. And Oregon's lack of support for higher education is a national disgrace.
Fixing our schools requires money. If they're public schools, that's public money, or taxes. Fixing poverty will probably require even more money, or at least a more enlightened and progressive tax code. But don't be fooled into believing that good schools by themselves will eradicate poverty.
The opposite is true --ameliorating poverty will go a along way toward creating the good schools that everyone demands.
*(Supply side true believers would disagree. But they're wrong.)