Democratic Officials Fail to Deliver on Quality Education for the Poorest

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Early Childhood Commissioner Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor visiting M.D. Fox School in Hartford, September 2014.

By Marcelo Fernandez de la Mora

The Republican Party, which carries the message of economic prosperity and stability, is the most voted for in the five poorest states in the country in terms of median household income. Conversely, the five richest states have a strong tendency to vote for Democrats in national elections. Nevertheless, the Democrats currently govern in the top five unequal states as well as in the District of Columbia. Furthermore, large cities are Democratic bastions, yet cesspools of inequality (according to most liberals). Despite the fact that Democrats emphasize the issue of inequality and promise remedies to solve this grave issue, their successes in this area have left much to be desired; despite a plethora of social assistance programs, the states with the highest costs of living are blue ones. The most impactful inequality that lurks in these states is in education. In turn, this specific disparity in education has two main causes: (1) racial segregation and (2) economic isolation.

While the American South has had a history of racial segregation, large inner cities are where racial segregation is most prevalent. Between 2013 and 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Project excoriated New York City for its packing of minority students into schools, while white students were mostly isolated on their own. According to the study, “73% to 90% of charters were considered apartheid or intensely segregated schools in 2010.” In addition, the report argued, “across the 32 Community School Districts (CSDs), 19 had 10% or less white students, which included all districts in the Bronx, two-thirds of the districts in Brooklyn, half of the districts in Manhattan, and two-fifths of the districts in Queens.” Schools which have a 50-100% composition of students of color has “skyrocketed” in Buffalo, Richmond, and Baltimore. Again, all of these cities are Democratic bastions.

In an effort to ensure the opportunities of their children, minority families filed a lawsuit against Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, one of the nation’s most liberal governors, in Superior Court. Twenty one years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered an incumbent governor and his administration to diversify Hartford Public Schools. The state initially resisted, prompting courts to force the administration into complying. In 2015, a state lawyers claimed that the “plaintiffs were micromanaging [them]” and that the courts should discontinue their involvement in the case. Judges refused the request and ordered the state to continue the desegregation of public schools by allowing minority students to have access to the suburbs.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the Malloy Administration is under fire for trying to redefine what a “segregated school” means. Currently, according to state courts, a “segregated school” is one in which 75% of the population consists of people of color. The state has recently attempted to define a “segregated school” as an educational institution in which 80% of the population is minority. The NAACP and ACLU sued in Superior Court in response to these actions. The court will decide on an injunction soon (see Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education et alia v. Rell).

Funding equity for public school districts is yet another barrier that Democrats have failed to remove. Even though districts receive state subsidies, their main source of revenue consists of a combination of federal, state, and local funding. Liberal suburban school districts  in Connecticut and California are capable of financing their own school districts and in sending their high-achieving students to elite colleges. However, poorer districts such as Los Angeles and Bridgeport do not receive an equitable amount of state resources compared to Westport or Irvine. In Serrano v. Priest (1971) California courts ruled that giving local property tax the majority weight of funding for school districts was unconstitutional as it hurt low income families the hardest, violating the equal protection clause. In Vergara v. California (2014), a case concerning the constitutionality of an education law, the California Supreme court stated that the “evidence presented makes it clear to this Court that the Challenged Statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students.” Finally, minority parents sued Connecticut Governor Malloy (see Martinez v. Malloy) in Federal Court, alleging “state laws and official policies … forc[e] thousands of poor and minority students to attend traditional district schools that are consistently failing to provide students with a minimally acceptable education.” Whether this specific case or similar ones go to trial and are successful, the fate of the most vulnerable children’s education rests in the hands of courts and the pro school choice administration of President Trump.

The failures of these administrations have given Republicans at the local and federal level an invaluable opportunity to win votes and improve people’s lives. A voucher program that would allow low income children to attend private schools would result in poorer public schools being able to compete with private ones. With this system, the complexity and inequity of school district funding would disappear. Instead of paying bureaucrats who fail to correctly manage struggling schools, taxpayer money would directly go into financing children’s education. Students with talent and who work hard could attend the country’s most elite high schools without having to go into debt. Students who lack merit and are not accepted into private schools could attend public institutions. These places would still receive some assistance, but would have to endure much less of a financial burden due to a drop in student population. Student to teacher ratios would plummet, students could obtain higher-quality school materials, and teachers would have the ability to have higher salaries. Busing and other desegregation efforts would be less costly as well, and segregated states could improve their currently dismal efforts in diversifying schools.