School funding inequities are the larger issue
To the editor:
The debate over Question 2 on the November ballot (charter school expansion) is growing heated: charges and counter-charges are flying. And for good reason: the stakes are higher than they may appear.
While the right of every child to an education is unquestioned, the funding for and quality of that education varies. This is true on both a state-wide and a national basis. The commonwealth has a good record for educational achievement and equitable funding of school districts, relative to other states. Unlike Connecticut, we are not under a court order to reform our schools. Unlike Georgia, we accommodate children from homes below the poverty line with increased funding. But these things should be no cause for complacency, for the problem is a national one.
In 1973 the Supreme Court in San Antonio v. Rodriguez ruled that education is not a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, nor did the Court consider low-income communities a "protected class" and therefore deserving of federal protection. Instead, each state was made responsible for the education of the children within its borders.
State education finance systems could pass muster, as long as they were "rational" or "legitimate." Some states legislate a "thorough and efficient" school system, others opt for an education which is "uniform and general." This imprecise wording has resulted in a hodgepodge of rules, regulations, mandates, and funding mechanisms, many of which are clearly unfair. Some proponents of charter schools have these inequalities in mind when they press their case.
The essential problem seems to be that most states fund school districts through local property taxes. Not surprisingly, this guarantees that some children benefit from where they are born while others will not. The states try to offset this inequality, but these attempts in turn depend on the culture of each state. Thus the debate over charter schools is part of a larger conflict between what should be, and what is.
Those who are searching for information about these important issues may want to visit the web site of a non-profit which tracks the inequities of school funding across the country: edbuild.org
Robert M. Kelly, Lee