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Education: Funding Foolishness

February 03, 1985

There is no question about the inequity of public education funding, a form of discrimination that further handicaps the poor. The National Coalition of Advocates for Students has done a service in assembling the evidence of this problem and appealing for equity.

Some may be tempted to write the coalition off as extremist because of the assertion by a coalition co-chairman that "state and local financing of schools adds up to a conspiracy to spend more money on rich kids and less money on poor kids." There is no evidence of a conspiracy in the usual sense of that word. But events have conspired to produce a situation that is widening the gap between the poor and the affluent.

Two matters are at stake. The inequity itself cries for solution. And, in the long term, the consequences of the inequity on the social and economic fabric of the nation must be recognized as dangerously debilitating, affecting the lives and well being of all Americans--not just those in the ghetto and the barrio.

The absence of leadership on this issue from President Reagan--indeed, his deliberate effort to disengage the federal government from education--has worsened the situation. But the blame needs to be shared by every state, for not one has devised a system to correct the inequities of a failed financial base for schools--a base that makes inevitable a mediocrity of programs and facilities in many of the schools serving the poor. An absence of public commitment, of public recognition of the consequences of this discriminatory program, has resulted in funding patterns that discriminate, as the report asserts, by race, class and sex, and that provide inadequate support for early childhood education despite proof of its effectiveness as a highly cost-effective remedy.

Many of the recent studies proposing ways to improve public education have paid too little attention to the particular problems of the poor, Harold Howe II, co-chairman, noted. He estimated that 25% of the students cannot meet the improved educational standards recommended, with good reason, by those studies without special help, "and that will cost money."

The foolishness of present education-funding policy is dramatized in the report. For example: "It costs only $500 to provide a year of compensatory education to a student before he or she gets into academic trouble. It costs over $3,000 when one such student repeats one grade once."

California has established fiscal equity among most school districts, with the basic support of the great majority of students varying no more than $100 a year. But funding for remedial and support programs lags behind basic support, which itself is falling. This preoccupation with short-term economies clouds the fact that remedial funds, spent now, would assure remarkable savings in government expenditures later on while also raising the quality of the future labor force.

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