In recent decades as income disparity increased, upward mobility decreased. In the same period, quality of education deteriorated for those in lower income communities. This deterioration results when family and community income influence the quality of education. The income disparity leads to education disparity, limiting employment opportunities for the disadvantaged and increasing social problems.
The affluent can choose their communities and have the option of enrolling their children in private schools if public schools do not meet their expectations. The poor do not have those choices. Some communities offer charter schools, which allow a few students an alternative to public school. Private and charter schools have several advantages over public schools; they can select their students and control their budget, curriculum, and teaching staff. As a result, they have more freedom in accommodating student needs. Public schools must accept all students in their communities, function within fixed schedules and curricula, and live within budgets that compete with other community priorities.
Communities receive education funding from local, state, and federal governments. Local funding comes from property and/or sales taxes. Affluent communities are able to provide better resources than low-income communities. The result is that low-income communities, which have the greatest needs, may have schools with the fewest resources, the least qualified teachers, and inadequate school facilities. Federal and state funding, distributed by formula and programs to address specific factors affecting quality of education, varies from state to state. These funds do not directly address the resource advantage of affluent communities, which can afford higher salaries to lure the best qualified and most experienced teachers and provide more resources and better facilities.
Low-income communities often have more students living in environments where social problems prevail. In Income Inequality & Social Dysfunction, Pickett and Wilkinson conclude that many social problems, including mental illness, violence, teenage births, obesity, drug abuse, and poor educational performance, are more common in societies with income and social stratification, and their prevalence increases with degree of inequality. If our society continues to tolerate the conditions that increase income disparity, these problems will perpetuate.
Social problems are a drain on the economy. Better employment opportunities can reduce their prevalence. Education disparity limits the ability of the disadvantaged to be aware of, and to qualify and compete for, better employment opportunities. Might government investment to ensure education equality be an effective way to reduce social problems and income disparity?