From Maryland to Arizona, public schools report not having proper temperature control, adequate books or enough buses to ensure that children are picked up on time. For example, let’s consider air conditioning. In September, 50 Baltimore schools closed early due to a lack of proper air conditioning. Considering it was over 90 degrees into October in parts of the country—including an October high of 97 degrees in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where I’m from—these closures were troubling.
It’s also troubling to consider what happens when students remain stuck in broiling classrooms without air conditioning. Students who learn in hotter classrooms perform worse on college admission tests, according to a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Now, the impending winter is upon us and many public school systems are no better prepared or equipped to manage the cold. Last winter, schools closed in Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston due to faulty boilers and broken windows. Last month, when Chicago endured the record-breaking cold, Kenwood Academy’s heat went out. Students burrowed in coats, hats and gloves while taking tests and working math problems.
For public school students, transportation is just as bad. Over 50 students in Boston waited three hours for a bus to pick them up from school. Parents across the country reported that school buses either failed to pick up their children from school or dropped them off at the wrong location. Can you imagine your 6-year-old being let off of a school bus in the wrong neighborhood?
These troubling patterns suggest that we don’t really value education and we don’t really care about our children—or at least we don’t seem to care the same about children whose skin is a certain hue. A new report shows that non-White school districts, compared to predominately White districts, receive $23 billion less in funding.
The Promise of Equitable Education is a Farce
Arizona has one of the largest state gaps, with non-White districts receiving 46% less funding than predominately White districts. It should be no surprise that some Arizona schools don’t have working air conditioning and heating systems, functional bathrooms or enough books. Imagine how difficult these learning environments are for students and teachers.
Some community organizations are aiming to do what they can. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, 52% of the county’s elementary schools, 76% of middle schools, and 61% of high schools have been adopted by local organizations and businesses. For example, Reid Temple AME Church has adopted two public schools, Magnolia Elementary School and Springhill Lake Elementary School. The church’s Men’s Ministry is also providing mentorship to high schoolers and welcomed students at DuVal High School on their first day. Given the persistence of arguments about school disengagement in Black communities, it was a magical moment to see Black men in suits high-fiving and cheering on students entering school as if they were being introduced at the Super Bowl.
So, while the actions, or inactions, of some school systems and policymakers suggest little care for the learning and the future well-being of our children, some community organizations continue to pick up the slack. But, should they have to?
People pay taxes for their public schools to have the financial resources they need to give their community’s children a fair shot in life. But the American promise of equitable schooling for children is a farce. Local property taxes and neighborhood racial composition have become the hallmark determinations of whether schools receive adequate funding. In addition to rethinking our current property tax system that funds local schools, financial literacy may be beneficial.
Could Financial Literacy Help Address School Inequality?
Schools are only beginning to tackle these challenges, and financial skills are not being delivered similarly across the country. According to a Brookings report, only 28 states have financial literacy standards for elementary students. While states like Kentucky and Iowa are making financial literacy a requirement for graduation, 27 states received grades of C or below (including an F in our nation’s capital) on a recent financial literacy report card.
Though some states close to Washington DC, such as Maryland, received higher grades, the disparate implementation of financial literacy courses in schools within each state is also concerning. The county where Reid Temple Church is located is just now piloting a financial literacy program in one high school. In a state like Maryland, where the school equity gap often exists between non-White, low-income districts and non-White, high-income districts, it is imperative that children learn and understand finances so they can be in better financial situations than their predecessors.
Considering the mismanagement of public funds within school districts, financial literacy should be a requirement for school employees as well. Financial literacy leads to better money management and more knowledge about homeownership and community investments. Making financial literacy a requirement is an investment in our country’s future.
Dr. Rashawn Ray is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. Ray has written for the New York Times, Huffington Post and NBC News. Selected as 40 Under 40 Prince George's County and awarded the 2016 UMD Research Communicator Award, Ray has appeared on C-SPAN, MSNBC, HLN, Al Jazeera, ...