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Last month, we asked the question of, “can there be a case to provide government schooling in rich neighborhoods?” Regular readers would of course not be surprised to learn that I have concluded “no.” Before you call me a partisan hack, notice that at least I tried to lay out the reasons why I came to such a proposition. Even if my reasons are incorrect in your view, at least I provided you with evidence for what would make me reconsider my views. In other words, contradict the things (all of them) I said there, and I will gladly consider your position . Note also that allowing you that luxury keeps the fight off the moral ground – which neither of us is likely to cede.

Now, I want to ask, what possible reasons could one use for having expensive, “free,” government schools in rich neighborhoods. I can only think of two reasons, or perhaps three. All two (three) of these reasons have little to do with education or schools, but rather something different entirely. The education of the children does not matter except for one little point.

  1. The schools and the school system are simply a convoluted and effective way to redistribute income from the wealthy private sector into the less wealthy, less productive, public sector. Over 70% of the workers in the public school system are unionized. This at a time when the national rate of unionization in the private sector is at an all time low of 7% and while public sentiment favoring unions has fallen below 50% for the first time.  Using the “children” as a pawn in this power struggle is an effective way to funnel massive amounts of salary and benefits to a class of individuals that would not likely be able to earn it in the private sector. Or, it is a way to empower these people in ways that they would not be empowered if there were no government schooling sector. In short, we have government schools to serve the union and administrator interests, and the interests of those who can contract with those institutions.
  2. I firmly believe that the current system is a fancy way of exacerbating existing inequalities and keeping the poor out of the lily-white nice rich neighborhoods. It is sad that one of the “best” arguments of the pro-government schooling crowd is that private schooling would create massive inequalities and that the poor could not afford private schools. However, the history of private schooling suggests quite the opposite. Even in the absence of schools run by charities and churches, and tuition being subsidized by charities and churches, historically we saw that poor families went to great lengths to provide education for their children. We’ve covered this elsewhere on this site. Furthermore, the entire record of capitalist achievement has not been to profit by serving the needs of the rich, but rather the great capitalist achievement, a uniquely capitalist achievement, is to make enormous amounts of goods and services available to the masses. There is little reason to believe the same would not be true of schooling if it were allowed to happen. So, what is my point?

    In fact, the current system of government schooling funded by local property taxes and other levels of government subsidies, and where students must attend the school in their neighborhood is perfectly designed to foster and expand existing inequalities. Let us ask, are all public schools of equal quality? Where are the best public schools? In the poorest areas or in the richest areas? What happens to the education of the children that have the misfortune of growing up in the poor areas with the worst public schools in the world? How would they get to go to a better school? By either going to a private school or by moving to an area where the good public schools are. But what do you know, it is near impossible for a poor family to move their children to the areas where schools are good. For example, we bought pretty much the cheapest house in Pittsford for about $185,000. Maybe you can find one for $150,000. Even on that smaller house, the annual taxes would be somewhere in the $5,500 range. If you make, as a family, say, $40,000 per year (hardly dirt poor) you really cannot afford that house in Pittsford. The monthly payments would be almost $1,300 per month – or almost half of what this family’s take home after tax income would be. Of course, there aren’t many houses that are priced at $150,000 where I live, and the more you must pay to get here, the higher your taxes will be too. Note, that in addition to high demand from the lily-white crowd, you don’t exactly see much (if any) of Pittsford zoned for higher density residential construction (e.g. apartments) – which makes it even harder for a poor family to find a rental, and puts further upward pressure on permanent residential housing markets.

    It would be useful to know just how much taxes are capitalized into lower house prices, but regardless – because the quality of the schools locals get to send their kids to is so good, it drives up the demand for housing in our neighborhood relative to other neighborhoods which might be geographically similar but with lower quality schools. The poor basically don’t even have a chance in this model. Of course, the Progressive solution is to either ignore the facts of the matter – that their cherished bastions of equality in fact promote massive inequality — or that they say, well, just spend more money in the cities. Well, you really can’t spend much more than what the city of Rochester is spending, yet they cannot graduate even half their students. Give me a break. We here in Pittsford, it would seem to me, like the restrictive nature of the public school system to keep the unpleasant poorer folks out of our nice white neighborhoods. If schooling were totally private, location would be far less important, and you would very clearly see more integration both within neighborhoods and within schools. How come the Progressives ignore this? Because it is NOT about schooling. It is NOT about the kids. And it is NOT about diversity.

  3. I don’t put too much stock in this – but it does have a whiff of truth to it. The reason for government schooling today might be similar to how it got its start in the US. You see, public schools were not founded because of some wonderful commitment to educating the previously uneducated. In fact, before public schooling became universal, it turns out that literacy was widespread (no worse than today) and even the poor sent their kids to private schools. But therein was the problem – if kids went to all kinds of private schools, they might not learn to respect governmental authority, they might learn things that the evil, dirty Catholics wanted their children to learn, and come to not worship at the altar of the dominant Protestants. I don’t think there are anti-religions reasons for the public schools today – but I do certainly think that there allure of one-curriculum, one-mind fits all education is too clean and neat for the intellectual elite to pass up. Where they see this as a virtue, I see it as an absolute affront to human decency and an attack on the principles that my family holds most dear. But hah, principles don’t matter.

Any other possible explanations? I have a few others, which don’t seem to pass the smell test for me. For example, we know that private schools would never spend money (regularly) on elaborate sports complexes and other amenities that we like – so we have a public school system set up in order to justify these lavish expenditures we would never make on our own.

One Response to “Why Do We Have Government Union Schools in Rich Neighborhoods?”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    I just assumed it a make-work stimulus program for the NEA. 😉

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