Inequality in the American School System

In the United States inequality in the school system has been an issue under discussion for many years. In the past inequality in American school system was based on gender and race. In the present day, it is not so cut and dry and income has become the driving source of segregation. Typically, schools in high-income districts have better access to educational enriching services. They easily access the best counselors, psychologists, and educational resources like books, laptops, and busses among others.

Yet, schools in poor neighborhoods have limited access to the same services which significantly impacts their performance. Inequality in the American school system persists because the socio-economic status of the child’s background determines what type of school he or she attends as well as the resources and educational support he or she gets. This paper will address how immigration policies, income, public school funding, and federal and state government education policies contribute to determine the quality of education a child receives.

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Immigration status influences one’s access to education. Despite the ruling that everyone has an equal right to education, people without proper documentation experience discrimination in this country. For example, despite the New York State Constitution allowing for good education to all, many immigrant children do not get the same education as those born in the United States. In Alabama, school administrators are required to determine immigration status of children before enrolling them. It has led to an increased number of missing students mostly Latino’s. Immigrants at college level find it difficult to get government aid unlike their American peers.

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It makes it difficult for immigrants to finance their college education leading many to drop out or find work to pay the required fees. Immigrant children do not have social security numbers and therefore cannot apply for educational loans and scholarships (Mcinerny para 3). The Trump administration seeks to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed immigrant students to obtain work permits (Mcinerny para 16). The loss of such policies discriminates immigrants by ensuring that they do not get access to equal education directly impacting their job opportunities.

The level at which federal policies contribute towards equal access to education varies from one state to the other depending on the public school’s budget of each state, and the formula each state uses. Likewise, the level at which state policies contribute towards equal access to education within the state will vary from one district to the other due to budgetary constraints. Public school funding in the U.S. varies from state to state depending on the percentage chipped in by federal and state governments. The federal government contributes the least while the rest of the funding comes from the state and districts. For instance, federal government contributed $56.3 and $56.4 billion for public school funding in the years 2014 and 2015 respectively. The states contributed $298.1 and $309.1 billion while the local sources contributed $289.7 and 298.5 billion for the same respectively (McFarland et al. xxv). While the federal government has the best chances of ensuring equal access to education nationally, its contribution has the least of effects on funding. States have This implies that equal funding across states is a big hindrance towards access to quality education.

Federal spends will differ from one state to another and state funding will differ from one district to the other. Some states and districts have higher budgets than others. However, there is a chance that some districts may over-identify a situation making the special funding policies incredible. Consequently, the state government must ration their funding to fit its budget. States typically vary in funding spends by three models. The three most used models are Foundation Grants, Guaranteed Tax Base, and Centralized Funding. As of 2015, 37 states used the foundation grant approach, and others use it in combination with other methods (Chingos). Foundation Funding is used in New Jersey and allocates funding with huge amounts of money coming in from the state especially for lower income districts. This model is good to equalize the spread between lower and higher income districts, but its downfall comes around when budgetary cuts increase. With respect to the funding many high-income districts can supplement the money lost by raising its taxing but for lower level districts it become a total nightmare and the budgetary cuts can have an enormous impact on their ability to function (Chingos). Texas on the other hand uses the Centralized Funding method and it is usually unaffected by the state’s budget. It works like the foundation grant, but the districts cannot raise funds above the minimum amount for expenses. So, if it is 10,000 per student each district pays a required 1 percent tax (Chingos). Other states use the Guaranteed Tax Base model to also equalize funding. The advantage is that districts with small revenue from its tax base can raise more money with a match from the state, thus giving them an incentive to raise local taxes since each dollar of spending will garnish more money from the state (Chingos). It is an evening out system. This kind of policy response with respect to Foundation Grants continues to affect the plight of needy students in the society, as more states use this than the others. Each method has their advantage and it is useful to point out that the other two models will affect higher income district by not allotting them to use their own resources they have available for their schools.

Good public schools with better facilities, good resources, and good performance reputations do charge more while schools with substandard facilities and resources will charge less. Likewise, the budgetary allocation for these public schools will also differ. For instance, Illinois had a 59% property tax funding for elementary and secondary schools, which was highest in all states in the year 2014-15 (McFarland et al. 143). It is expected that state districts contributing to the highest of these taxes will also enjoy a lion’s share of the same with respect to budgetary allocations for each district. Rich neighborhoods happen to contribute the highest and thus schools in such areas are generally well facilitated and have better education resources, including teachers and wages for teachers.

In Connecticut, Bridgeport and Fairfield school districts border each other and public-school spending per student is quite different. Fairfield is advantaged to benefit from the large property tax generated by its rich neighborhood while Bridgeport, which is poor receives less from property tax. Additionally, parents from public schools in Fairfield have the economic resources to aid their kids for extra field trips and special tutors among other learning enrichment services for their children. This leads to a difference in the outcome where the graduation rate for Fairfield is about 94% while Bridgeport has a graduation rate of about 63% (Hussey para 2). This implies that students from low-income families will opt for schools charging less while students from well-up families have at least a chance to select, which good school is preferable for them. Consequently, students from well up families have a higher level of access to quality education making their performance levels higher too.

The trends in education inequality gaps tend to correlate with the trends in variations in the economic well-being of citizens across all states of America (Duncan and Murnane 8). Public education is platform where the U.S. government seeks to establish equal access to eminent education irrespective of economic backgrounds, race, or political affiliations. However, the rise in income differences and the dynamic technological advancements have disoriented the United States approach to public education. The ever-rising economic gap between the rich and the poor heightens the difference in access to quality education (Duncan and Murnane 8). Addressing the trends through which income differences drives education inequality is key in solving the problem at hand.

Most high-income families prefer to occupy neighborhoods that are safer and classy since they can afford it. Thus it is evident that they tend to occupy an ecological niche that fits their income. Low-income families occupy less safe and less classy neighborhoods. They are known to occupy suburban and rural areas. Consequently, their children end up studying in different schools. Schools in richer neighborhoods tend to have better resources and good facilitation compared to schools in poorer neighborhoods. More experienced teachers will preferably teach in schools within rich areas while the less experienced will teach in schools within poorer neighborhoods. Bridgeport District’s public schools are victims of the unfortunate trend where keeping teachers is a hard task. They prefer working in neighboring districts such as Fairfield, Stratford, and Greenwich where they can make $25,000 – $30,000 more than they can earn in Bridgeport (Hussey para 31). It is also notable that there are more private schools and parents can spend extra resources for the enrichment of their children in richer neighborhoods (Duncan and Murnane 12). They tend to have more time to discuss issues pertaining to their children’s lives and matters of education. They have better chances of hiring private tutors, psychologists, and counselors to help their children. This implies that high-income families have a variety of choices when it comes to selecting the best resources for their children. Consequently, this leads to differentiation of quality education received by children from the low and high-income families. This also reflects in their manner of spending. They have more to spend on the extra quality beyond what is generally provided. Leading to a difference in the educational progress and outcome where children from disadvantaged families score lower grades.

In conclusion, it is true that inequality in the American school system continues to persist across states, and school districts. Inequality across states is evident by the fact that the federal government, which has the best position to bring equal access to quality education, have a less share of contribution for public-school funding. The states also stand a chance to contribute towards equal access to education across the districts but policies set at the state level might have a less impacting outcome since most of the public-school funds come from property tax. Property tax is collected at the district level and schools from more rich districts will probably get better funding than poorer districts. Consequently, schools with different levels of resources emerge, some with far better resources than others. They have the best teachers and can easily access the extra help they need. Children from these “good” schools end up getting quality education than kids from poorer schools. They also end up performing better. This shows that inequality in the American school system will persist if the current condition and policies continue.

Spotting and funding the least advantaged in the states, districts or neighborhoods cannot solve the problem of inequality in the American school system. Private schools among other enrichments still creates gaps, which will still express inequality in the system. The problem can only be solved by routing out the American inequality itself. The big income gaps between communities contribute towards the inequality in America. It contributes towards inequality in access to health care, business opportunities, better shelter as well as education. The removal of policies to help disadvantage including DACA with respect to immigration is heinous. To fix American schools, fix we must fix American inequality.

Works Cited

  • Duncan, Greg J., and Richard J. Murnane. ‘Growing Income Inequality Threatens American Education.’ Phi Delta Kappan, Mar. 2014, Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018.
  • Harris, Elizabeth A., and Kristin Hussey. ‘In Connecticut, A Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools’. The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2016, Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018
  • McFarland, Joel, et al., “The Condition of Education 2018.” U.S. Department of Education, Accessed on 03 Oct. 2018
  • Mcinerny, Claire. “As DACA Winds Down, DREAMers Turn Toward Different Futures.” nprEd, 10 Nov. 2017, Accessed on 30 Sept. 2018.

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Inequality in the American School System. (2021, Sep 21). Retrieved from

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