Commentary

America’s mushrooming inequality infects education

In case you missed it, the Associated Press is reporting new and disturbing news (click here to see the article in the Greensboro News & Record) about the impact that the nation’s mushrooming economic divide between the rich and everyone else is having on education:

Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they’ll count the ways:

Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.

Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:

Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures.

Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.

“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.

The article continues:

The disparity in spending patterns creates a hurdle for reducing income inequality through additional education — the preferred solution of many economists.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose exploration of tax data helped expose the wealth gap, has argued that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.”

In short, the article provides a sobering confirmation of what critics have long been saying about the conservative movement’s successful, decades-long campaign to disinvest in and privatize our public education system — namely, that it’s expediting the demise of our middle class society.

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