The Education Gap

>>NAACP ProtestEven if you don’t speak a second language, you can make sure your child is bilingual before she reaches kindergarten.

Even if you work all day, you can provide your toddler with an environment so intellectually stimulating that his academic skills will surpass those of your average fifth grader by the time he turns six.

You can send your school-age child to classes on art, music, and dance, and soon she’ll be the one educating you when you go to the museum or the theater.

You can give your child all of this – if you can pay for it.

The availability of “child enrichment” programs for those who can afford them, combined with >>the underfunding of public education from pre-kindergarten to public universities, has fueled a growing educational gap in America. And that gap isn’t just between the rich and the poor; >>it’s also between the rich and the middle class.

The gap in test scores between kids from middle-income families and those from low-income families has stayed the same over the past 50 years. But research shows that “>>the gap between the top earners and the rest is growing rapidly.”

In North Carolina during the last legislative session, we saw the further development of the “have’s versus have-nots” division, where the have-nots include a growing segment of the middle class.

The educational gap has grown largely in part to the “cut taxes no matter the cost” philosophy of Art Pope, the budget director for Governor Pat McCrory. As >>The American Prospect reported in June, “[T]he core of Pope’s agenda is going ahead. Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state’s focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress.”

Now that >>the funding cuts to education are in place, the next step toward widening the educational divide in North Carolina has been >>the creation of school voucher programs. Voucher supporters claim that these programs will help low-income children access a private-school education– but that’s highly unlikely. First off, the vouchers don’t cover the full cost of tuition to many private schools. Second, the vouchers are in the form of tax credits; families have to have money in the bank to pay tuition up-front and then wait for their refund. Third, most private schools don’t provide transportation or free lunches to low-income kids, so they aren’t an option for the state’s poorest students.

And then there’s the fact that research shows most private schools don’t do a better job educating our children. That seems like a pretty important factor lawmakers should consider. But when State Superintendent June Atkinson suggested that private schools receiving public funds should have to administer standardized tests to show that they provide students with a quality education, House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam said Atkinson should “>>stick to her knitting.” Seriously?!

Apparently, education no longer serves as a pathway to the middle class for children from low-income families, and middle-class kids will struggle just to maintain their status on the economic ladder when they grow up. It’s a system that will keep the majority of people in North Carolina solidly under the thumb of the wealthy elite.

And we’ll stay there until we demand that things change.

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