Education has traditionally been regarded as a great equalizer in the United States because of its capability to lift less disadvantaged children and enhancing their probability to succeed as adults. As a great equalizer of conditions in the society, education has been regarded as the balance wheel of America's social machinery. Since the establishment of the first public school in the United States, there has been widespread belief that education would enable children of any class to have a chance of succeeding in life. However, trends in the recent past have indicated the emergence of education disparity between rich and poor children. These trends have been particularly been prevalent in funding between school districts. For instance, Massachusetts, America's best-educated state, has experienced the second-biggest inequality in the past two decades because the poor are losing academic strengths to the rich.
Reason the Problem:
Even though the ability of education to act as a great equalizer in America's society is lessening, education still remains an important part of the modern economy. Actually, it is ironical that the dwindling state could be because of the growing importance of schooling to the modern economy (Rohde, Cookie & Ojha, 2012). Similar to other advanced economies, the main force behind the rising inequalities in America's education is a well-known fact. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find high-paying jobs for low-skilled employees because of the decline of manufacturing and the use of software to substitute clerks and secretaries. As a result, the good jobs that exist tend to require higher education, which is relatively expensive for poor children.
In order for poor children to stay even with the rich, they need to obtain better educational credentials. This need contributes to a scholastic achievement gap because of the huge disparity between the rich and poor in education. While children from low-class families are receiving better education than before, the richer kids are increasingly outpacing the achievements of the poor children. This in turn contributes to widening of the income gap and education disparity across the country. As compared to a quarter-century ago, the scholastic achievement gap between poor and rich students on standardized tests is approximately 40% wider (Rohde, Cooke & Ojha, 2012). Since excellent students are increasingly likely to become rich, income inequality is more likely to increase.
Funding between School Districts:
The United States government spends more than $500 billion annually on both public and secondary education across the country. Generally, schools districts spend approximately $10,314 for every individual student even though per student expenses differ considerably across states, individual schools and school districts ("School Finance," 2013). There is disparity in the funding of school districts as evident in the huge differences of spending among school districts in the same state and schools within the same district.
Education funding has traditionally by carried out by local governments that played a crucial role while states only assumed a supportive role in the process. However, this trend has changed since states currently play a growing and huge role in funding elementary and secondary education. On the contrary, federal funding has usually been minor despite of the slight increase in the role of federal government in this process and in education policy. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, federal government accounted for 44% of the total elementary and secondary education funding in 2010 ("School Finance." 2013). During the same period, states accounted for 43% of education funding while the local government's funding was 13%.
America has been characterized with significant differences in educational opportunity because of numerous disparities in the amount of funding that schools receive. These disparities can be classified into interstate, intrastate, and intradistrict school finance inequalities. Most of education funding disparities occurs among various states due to various factors such as capacity and effort. Capacity refers to the state's position with regards to economy and internal resources while effort is the willingness of the state to provide education funding. In relation to intrastate inequities, the disparities take place because of the tendency by some school districts to spend more than others within the same state. The intrastate disparities are likely to occur when the school district relies on local property tax as the main source of education funding. It contributes to school finance inequities because schools in wealthier districts have more resources as compared to those in low-income areas in the same state.
Intradistrict disparity refers to the differences in funding for individual schools within the same school district. The disparities are specifically huge in large school districts that operate many individual schools. Recent statistics indicate that intradistrict disparities were caused by ignorance of allocation of resources at the individual school level because of failure to understand the budgeting process and lack of transparency. Based on findings of recent studies, schools that serve students with greater needs in a school district tend to receive few resources ("School Finance," 2013).
NCLB and the Funding Disparity:
One of the largest interventions by the federal government of the United States into education was the 2002 enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation received tremendous support because of expectations that it would enhance student learning and lessen the achievement gap among students from different races. Nonetheless, this Act has proven futile and contributed to the problem of funding disparity between school districts because of failure to accomplish its objectives to an extent that it has worsened education inequalities. No Child Left Behind has played a key role in education funding inequities by exacerbating social and economic inequality. This has mainly occurred because the legislation has focused on education as the solution to social and economic disparities, which has diverted people's attention from pertinent issues (Hursh, 2007, p.295).
NCLB has made the public to focus on education as the means to deal with inequalities in the social and economic arenas such as income inequality. Consequently, there have been minimal efforts on other major issues such as poverty, health care, and lack of well-paying jobs, which should be addressed to lessen social and economic disparity. Therefore, the legislation worsens education funding disparity since the public does not focus on dealing with issues that contribute to education inequity in the first place.
Resolution for the Inequity in Education Funding:
Many people advocate for the establishment of a level playing field in public education for all school children based on the assumption that students perform better in well-funded schools. These calls have resulted in campaigns to increase the level of funding for the poorly funded school districts. However, nearly 50% of school finance is provided through local taxes, which contributes to the significant differences in education funding between school districts in wealthy areas and those in impoverished districts. In addition, other people have called for review of current policy on education funding as means of resolving the problem.
The proposal for more equitable funding has generated controversy and resistance from various stakeholders in the education sector. The support for more equitable funding is fueled by the need to focus on the welfare of children and provide equal opportunity through providing an equal playing field for every child (Biddle & Berliner, 2002, p.53). In order to provide equal opportunity in public education, public schools and school districts should be funded at levels that are adequate to provide a thorough curriculum across a wide range of subjects. The curriculum should be delivered by qualified teachers and supported by effective school district and school leaders. The establishment of a level playing field also requires adequate funding for school districts that serve students with greater needs and other special needs (Baker, Sciarra & Farrie, 2010).
In essence, these proposals are based on the assumption that throwing money at education would be the resolution for the disparity in education between well-funded and the not so well-funded districts. However, this contributes to concerns on whether increasing funding for public education is the resolution for the problem. According to a National Report Card on the fairness of school funding, throwing money at education is not the resolution for the disparity in education between well-funded districts and no so well funded districts (Baker, Sciarra & Farrie, 2010). The emphasis on increased funding as the resolution for this problem diverts public's attention from other important factors that contribute to education inequality.
When funding is not invested wisely in major areas like strong curriculum, effective oversight, quality teaching, and enough support for struggling schools, it worsens the disparities, particularly in academic performance and students outcomes. This implies that schools in high-poverty areas and districts need adequate funding that is utilized effectively and efficiently in order to achieve the specified student outcome objectives. Moreover, every initiative to throw money at education without examining the probability of effective and efficient use does not resolve the problem but only worsens it through varying students' performance. Even though funding plays an important role, it is not the resolution for education disparity in America.