Bad news for public schools

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’.


  1. samgardner says

    Hi Mano,
    Not sure how you see this as an attack on the public school system, when it’s the families who are the ones with the low incomes…

    I agree with you pretty much on the rest of your statements — the oligarchy IS trying to impoverish schools (with the ultimate goal of impoverishing everyone else), and does try to reduce education to a commodity they can sell. 

  2. Mano Singham says


    There has been a concerted attack on the reputation of public schools and its teachers to try in order to deter middle class families from enrolling their children in them because when only poorer people send their children to these schools, it becomes easier to defund them.

  3. samgardner says

    Oh, doo you’re saying the percentage of low-SES students in public schools is am effect of these attacks? Or that the release of these percentages is calculated top further drive the middle, class away?

    I suppose I could imagine either, though I’d need some evidence for the second (if, for example, it were a conservative organization that had compiled the stats).

  4. Mano Singham says


    I meant the first, that “the percentage of low-SES students in public schools is am effect of these attacks”. I have no reason to doubt the stats.

  5. Katydid says

    I received a perfectly satisfactory education in the public school system, from preschool through master’s degree. When my own children started school, I saw just how far the system had fallen, and it’s still under attack. I understand why people with the means/determination to give their children a better experience do so; it’s definitely an uphill climb to try to fix what’s been destroyed, which leaves those who can’t afford anything else trapped in a dysfunctional mess. This was no accident; the right-wing have been gunning for public education since at least St. Ronnie.

  6. Mano Singham says


    I did not go to school here but both my children went through the public school system and they got what I thought was a great education in the conventional sense of what colleges look for. The younger one graduated in 2004 and the district seems to be holding up the standards as far as I can see, though it is not easy.

  7. Katydid says

    Mano, I’m glad the system worked for you. What I saw, in my (southern) state, was a complete chaos-ification of the school schedule--they were out, the were in late, they were out early, they had three non-consecutive days off in the same week. Nobody thrives under that kind of system.

    Then there’s the high-stakes testing. When my oldest was in the third grade, he came down with walking pneumonia right before the test week. Like any good parent, I kept my feverish, hacking, ill child at home…and was contacted by an irate principal who tried to pressure me into sending this child in, because he was a great test-taker and brought up the school average. That’s just nuts.

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