Why We Can't Mandate Equal Funding for Public Schools

First published in Nov 2008
Original Post

I found myself in an unusual position today: on the conservative side of a hot-topic issue - Education. I made a comment about how lower socio-economic status is correlated with lower intelligence, and the student behind me interjected with the fact that this fact is largely because of abysmal public schools in poor neighborhoods.

This student, (I don’t know his name; let’s call him Jon) believed that education is a fundamental right, and therefore public schooling should be of equal quality and completely federally funded. That way, children would equal opportunity to succeed in the future.

While I strongly support equal opportunity, I disagree with his strategy for achieving it. Here’s why.

This country was founded on the principles of LIBERTY and EQUALITY. By mandating federal funding, Jon ignores that first principle. Currently, richer communities can pay normal tax rates but raise more funds and thus improve the quality of their schools. This federal mandate removes those communities abilities to do that, because their money taken away and “reallocated” back with less. Rich people want to protect their freedom to put MORE money into their schools and less taken away to fund other schools.

At the end of the day, people who have more money will find ways of improving their children’s educational experience. Jon mentioned that he was fine with rich people sending their kids to private schools.

But if that’s the case, then the rich will find a way to pay lobbists to change the laws so they no longer have to pay the “educational tax” because they don’t use public schools. This will quickly drain the general pool and drop the funding to public schools, lowering the quality so that everyone who has any money will jump ship to a private school.

This is probably happening already to some extent, but increasing the tax for education will only accelerate this trend.

Consider that health is probably even more fundamental then education, and yet we are the only democratic developed nation without universal health care.

Now I don’t know what the answer is the educational inequality - Teach For America, the Gates Foundation, Consulting firms, Universities and other organizations are all trying to tackle the issue from different sides - training teachers, experimenting with school systems, reorganizing governance programs, improving teaching methods. These are all important and are helping push educational equality along. Is there more we could be doing? Certainly. But I’m pretty sure that having the Fed come into force equal schooling quality will fail.