A new report says that for the first time in 50 years, a majority of public school students come from families who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. As Kevin Drum points out, those who quality for free lunch (44%) have family incomes of less than $31,000, while for the 7% who get reduced-price lunches the cut-off is $44,000.
This should not be surprising because I think this impoverishment of public schools has been the goal of the oligarchy in the US. The sustained attacks on the public school system and the vilification of its teachers has resulted in middle and upper income families losing faith in public schools and looking for other options such as private, parochial, and charter schools. Conveniently, the charter school movement has come along, many of them for-profit, to siphon away the disaffected.
This creates a negative spiraling effect.
The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, more than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.
This will give more ammunition to those who oppose the public school system and demand that funding for them be cut even more because they are supposedly failing. And given that the poor are politically powerless, it will be easy for the oligarchs to cut funding for public schools and divert the money to parochial and for-profit charters.
“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”
The public schools must be better funded but this suggestion is invariably dismissed as ‘throwing money at the problem’, a phrase that I only hear when it comes to providing resources for the poor. One never hears it used in the context of (for example) national security spending or financial bailouts where failures and even massive corruption are dealt with by actually ‘throwing money at the problem’.