I recently had a phone discussion with an English family considering a relocation to the U.S. and found myself going through my check list of aspects of the U.S. education system that they would want to understand. As always, we got to the discussion of how the public system here works and that the fact that, in most locations, a student is guaranteed a spot in his “home” public school in the district by virtue of his address; with some exceptions, schools don’t become “oversubscribed” as they do in England, and a family can therefore actually “shop” schools and districts when choosing a home, because they know ahead of time which school their child will attend if living in a certain residence. That was the good part.
Then we got to the part of the conversation that’s less celebratory, in my opinion—the fact that U.S. public schools continue to be heavily funded by their local tax bases, and the colossal disparities that exist, therefore, between schools in one area versus another; the importance, consequently, of understanding a school’s personality and performance before signing a lease, because two elementary schools only a couple of miles apart may look like different creatures.
The parents I was speaking with expressed surprise that U.S. schools continue to be so locally funded, and I wasn’t sure what to say; I never am. It seems that, while we examine and argue over other aspects of education, we continue to quietly accept a profound inequality of possibility in the very cornerstone of our system’s structure—that of funding based on property taxes of a given area. Poor neighborhoods can’t but have poorer schools than other neighborhoods, with fewer programs and supplies for already-poorer students. And so it goes—less privileged kids are the last out of the gates, and then they’re given a slower horse to ride.
Looking for articles on this topic, I came across many, one from 2016 in The Atlantic, that was particularly interesting: