This week’s Courier Herald column:
For the second year in a row, the Washington Post was kind enough to call Atlanta the city that is the “most unequal” in the U.S. The paper is talking of income disparity, where they cite the top 2% of income earners make more than $288,000 per year but those in the 20th percentile of incomes earn just under $15,000. These are the findings from a report issued last week from the Brookings Institution.
These are stories that usually are tailored to fit a narrative, and when income inequality is discussed it is usually with the intention to “soak the rich”. If you prefer a less pejorative term, you can assume the point is to suggest wealth transfer. Especially when the Post ended with the usual refrain noting that the gap continues to get wider.
Let’s stipulate that the gap is a problem. What remains in disagreement is the proper way to solve it.
To do that, let’s assert who we are as a country. We are a country of opportunity. We are not, and cannot, be a country that guarantees outcome. To do so would negate the reward for risk taking, for hard work, for saving and investing. These have always been coupled with the American dream. The basis of this dream, however, has always been one of opportunity.
We are kidding ourselves if we believe – still in 2015 – that Georgia provides each of our children the same opportunity when it comes to education. We’ve tried many ways to provide a paper definition of equality in our schools. From desegregation to funding from a quarter century old “Quality Basic Education” funding formula, we can, at least legally, defend our schools as equal.
And yet, Georgia has many schools that are failing. We’ve had three entire systems run the risk of accreditation loss, with one system actually losing accreditation within the last decade. Other systems are generally fine, but have one or a small handful of schools that are constantly left behind.
Georgia spends a larger percentage of its total budget on K-12 education, 24%, than any of our neighboring states. The vast majority of this money is sent directly to local school systems. While locals control education, we all have a vested interest in making sure there is a positive return on this sizable investment.
The Governor has proposed a constitutional amendment that would give the state the ability – but not the obligation – to take over chronically failing schools. Other possible solutions are include the local governments enter into Memorandums of Understanding with an action plan for correction that would be acceptable to the state.
141 schools statewide have been identified as potential takeover targets. The Opportunity School District would be allowed to take no more than 20 schools per year, and not more than 100 at any one time. If the state takes over a school, they’ll be operating under a “you broke it, you bought it” political reality. They will have to demonstrate improvement, or acknowledge the problems were bigger than just local management.
As usual, many representatives of the educational establishment are raising questions and criticisms of the plan. During the recent trip to New Orleans to talk to those who have implemented a program, a blunt suggestion to this line of criticism was offered:
When you decide to deal with children’s problems first, the adult’s problems can settle themselves accordingly. This is about “children failure not being an option, and adult failure not being tolerated” according to one of the New Orleans’ experts.
To be clear, this isn’t about blaming educators. This is about finding the right resources to give to the classroom teachers – and removing the many obstacles they deal with – so that an expectation of learning may occur.
Couple that thought to the recent Atlanta cheating scandal, whose final trial is wrapping up now. Testimony offered included a teacher telling her students “You all just dumb. You can’t learn anything.” and another overhearing “I had to give your kids, or your students, the answers because they’re dumb as hell.”
There’s profanity in that statement. It is the absence of expectation by an entire school system that the kids they were charged with educating were incapable of learning. And as such, they were promoted through a system that was solely focused on adult problems. One that completely ignored the child problems.
Education is the first and most fundamental building block to a person’s income equality. If we’re truly concerned about the growing discrepancy between the have’s and the have nots, we need to make sure every child that enters a Georgia school comes out with the knowledge that enables them to have. Everything else is just an adult problem.
Charlie Harper is the Editor of PeachPundit.com, and is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a group which works on policy solutions for Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.
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