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Increased income inequality among adults means increased inequality of educational opportunity for children, a powerful incentive for protest in communities like Edgewood. At the same time, the “protection” of a college diploma and advanced professional-managerial training is now threatened by a shortage of well-paying jobs. The current recession is increasing the economic pressure. Last July’s Fortune magazine featured a hard-hat worker looking off into a parched desert with the banner “Job Drought.” Last May, Texas Monthly editor Gregory Curtis sounded downright tearful describing the bleak economic prospects of new college graduates. This is the kind of economic engine failure that tempts the strongest passengers to push the weaker ones off the plane. In the 1970s, poor and minority communities all over the country began demanding more equitable school funding. At the same time, white middleand upper-class voters increased their opposition to taxation. The legal stalemate that has paralyzed Texas has actually been less damaging than the economic firestorm that hit California schools after a 1977 state court ruling mandated school funding equalization there. The tax revolt there led to budget cuts that dragged the whole system down. Once among the best in the country, California’s “equalized” system now ranks 30th among all states in per pupil spending. Does the white middle class really gain from resistance to social spending on “other people’s children”? In the short run, it may save some money by drawing a line in the sand around its own schools. It can keep taxes down and preserve a competitive advantage for its own children. But in the long run, this strategy undermines the quality of all public schooling. It also weakens the principles of equal opportunity that made something called a “middle class” possible in this country. Ironically, the very persistence of the recession is beginning to bring this point home. In the 1980s, Republican rhetoric convinced many middle-class voters that poor people were entirely to blame for their own poverty. This year, Ross Perot has helped Bill Clinton explain how economic policies have contributed to poverty, unemployment and declining incomes for everyone but the very rich. Our lack of investment in public infrastructure, including public education, has hurt our ability to compete with foreign economies. In education, as in most things, you get what you pay for. The United States now has what the dean of M.I.T.’s school of management describes as “a grossly undereducated work force,” far below the level of Japan and Germany in high school graduation rates, tested educational achievement, and basic levels of literacy and numeracy. And Texas is way behind the rest of the U.S. in expenditures. In 1991, even districts in the top 5 percent of Texas schools averaged only $4,600 per student, compared to the overall national average of $4,800. The risks of poverty, unemployment and crime all increase as levels of education decrease, and these risks impose serious costs. As Ross Perot is fond of pointing out, the cost of tuition, room and board at Harvard University is lower than the per-prisoner maintenance costs at Huntsville State Prison. In the U.S. as a whole in 1990, 38 percent of Latino children \(18 years below the poverty line, compared to 18 percent for all children. The combination of poverty and poor schooling helps explain why only 58 percent of Latinos ages 20-24 are high school graduates, compared to 79 percent for African Americans and 85 percent for whites. And low graduation rates, in turn, help explain the poverty in store for the next generation. Opponents of educational funding reform will continue to argue that money doesn’t really make much difference. Rep. Alan Schoolcraft, a Republican who represents a suburban San Antonio district and serves on the House Public Education Committee, often declares that when it comes to school funding, “less is more.” The most obvious response to the money-doesn’tmatter argument is, “Well then, why do rich districts protest equalization?” The fact is, money is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for a good education. If you want a competitive economy that rewards hard work, creativity and willingness to take risks rather than just family background, you have to give everyone a fair start. And that means you can’t let parents define a different starting line for their own children. Does this principle of equal opportunity limit parent’s choices? Yes. But it creates new possibilities, and therefore new choices, for their children. “But the one thing we did right was the day we started to fight.” No one ever said it would be easy. Equal opportunity isn’t just expensive. It also comes into conflict with some other important principles. The ideal school financing system would provide equal access to education, reward tax “effort” or willingness to impose taxes and offer local control over taxes and budgets: Unfortunately, no system yet dreamed up can meet all three goals. So reform becomes a question of priorities. The Texas Supreme Court did not rule that expenditures per student must be equalized, only that districts must be able to obtain equal revenue for equal tax effort. The plan put into effect last year was based on a political compromise, and did not reward tax effort perfectly or provide complete equalization. But most of the opposition to the plan came from those who disliked its redistributive, “Robin Hood” aspects. Even some of the beneficiaries were uncomfortable with these. Last year a group of student-council representatives from Alamo Heights got together with their counterparts from Edgewood and wrote a letter to the Governor. They didn’t like the way they were being played off against each other. “The most important factor to both communities,” they wrote, “is that all students get the best education possible.” This youthful idealism seems sweet but naive to me. Quality education for all should be the most important factor, but economic self-interest is playing a pretty important role. Wealthy districts don’t want to lose control over revenues they consider “theirs.” Consider, for instance, their response to proposed redistricting. The simplest way to provide equity, maintain local control and avoid any constitutional amendment would be to redefine local districts, to consolidate them into larger units like the current County Education Districts. This would lower administrative costs and wouldn’t necessarily create unwieldy units. But districts like Alamo Heights are vehemently opposed to consolidation or redistricting. One reason is that they would lose some of their identity and sense of tradition. But another is that they would lose their economic advantage and perhaps even become vulnerable to federal laws against segregation. Right now, schools on the north side of San Antonio are predominantly white, on the east side predominantly African American, on the south and west side predominantly Latino. In a unified citywide district, such segregation would probably be illegal and might even mandate busing. Consolidation might encourage affluent parents to withdraw their children from public schools altogether and fortify the enclave of elite private schools. Desegregation had that impact in many Northern cities. But “white flight” to the suburbs was encouraged by the system of local school funding that made many public schools virtually “private” in terms of exclusivity. With this link in the causal chain broken, genuine equality might result but only within the consolidated districts. Regional differences in the state would remain. For instance, Edgewood and Alamo Heights might be equalized, but San Antonio students would remain worse off, on average, than those in Dallas. That’s why most educators would prefer a state-based funding plan that would bring all students up to the highest standard. But the revenues required to accomplish this just can’t be squeezed out of the current system. Only a new state tax could provide it. A statewide property tax would require an amendment to the State Constitution. A state income tax would not. It would only require a complete revision of the current Political State of Mind. Some combination of state aid with local redistribution, like Senate Bill 351 currently in effect, could work if it were “constitutionalized.” But it could be improved upon in several ways. Redistribution from wealthy to poor districts should take place statewide. This would promote greater equality across the state, and minimize local conflicts within County Education Districts. Taxes should be more progressive, taking a bigger bite out of “luxury” real estate and certain kinds of business property. And potential for local “enrichment” should be strictly limited. Otherwise, wealthy districts will simply re-establish the disparities that previously existed. Debates over details like these will litter the battleground in the next special legiSlative session. Unfortunately, the state’s newspapers haven’t done a very good job of explaining the 8 NOVEMBER 13, 1992