Equal opportunity has become an integral part of any U.S. political agenda. It is a national goal and supported by almost everyone, and education is the key.
However, there is a fundamental element in the structure of U.S. education that undermines equal opportunity from the start, and that is the system that funds education from property taxes.
I can understand where that system comes from since, when small settlements in the U.S. became incorporated in order to impose local taxes to fund community services like garbage collection and sewage systems, there was no system of national education. Each town had to provide its own school and its own teacher. The only obvious way of funding that was through an income tax, which would have been complicated, or by a property tax which was quite simple.
That beginning has continued to be the way education is funded despite a radical change in population density and urban growth.
It has been widely reported that richer areas of the country get better schools, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that fact. The properties are more expensive, the property tax system has been automated in most states to the point where, when a house is sold, the sales value automatically updates the property tax data base and tax is assessed on the new value. Higher house prices mean more money for education in that taxable jurisdiction.
Equal opportunity is therefore sabotaged from kindergarten, or even pre-school education, all the way through high school and even local two-year colleges.
Various attempts have been legislated to promote equal opportunity over the past decades: school busing; quota systems for college entry and government jobs, private grants to promote local initiatives and government grants to upgrade schools in poor areas. However, all these programs are fighting an uphill battle, and are aimed at the symptoms not the root causes.
Some root causes are difficult to attack: poverty, basic family issues and social environment but education can be addressed.
If education was taken off the rolls of the property tax system and put under the Federal Government there is a chance that children can at least expect a level playing field for their education. I say “Federal Government” because we deserve and need nationwide equal opportunity for all citizens regardless of where they live.
States’ rights arguments can only subvert this process towards equal opportunity. It has to be a Federal responsibility and a citizen’s right.