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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Randy R. Miller
September 8, 2015
Title I funding is the money allocated to low-income school districts to close academic achievement gaps between white students and economically disadvantaged, nonwhite students. Many on the right side of the political aisle favor portable Title I funds, which means funding children instead of schools. Wealthier school districts would be in line to receive Title I funding if they had economically disadvantaged students on the rolls. Those left-leaning legislators are naturally opposed to portable funds; citing money will be taken from poorer school districts and given to wealthier districts.
The fear is tipping the scales even more against low-income students. It is safe to think that people don’t want to see poor students of color put at an even further disadvantage academically. But who can argue that the current way we do things is working effectively? The current system is a well-oiled machine when it comes to producing what we already have. But who wants more of that?
We are unsure if portability would really affect those students who attend high poverty schools, where a majority of their classmates are also poor. But does giving high poverty districts more money change the fact that the majority of these student are poor? What it will really take is to actually reduce, if not eradicate areas with high concentrations of poverty?
When it comes to this matter of socioeconomic impact on the educational outcomes of children of color (aka the blame game), people tend to fall into one of two camps. One is either a culturalist, emphasizing the importance of self-perpetuating norms and behaviors, or a structuralist, emphasizing the role of white privilege and institutional racism’s impact on economic circumstance. Regardless of one’s point of view, it is irrefutable that your philosophical view shapes any solution you may bring to the table.
If you lean toward the culturalist side, you may believe in the “culture” of poverty. You think institutions, like society, are colorblind and that anyone can succeed if they simply work hard and carry themselves according to the Protestant ethic.
If you lean hard on the structuralist side, you may believe that white supremacy shapes most, if not all, of the institutions and experiences within our nation’s borders. You believe there is an eternal struggle between the excellence of people of color and white mediocrity — more victories held by the latter.
If you fall hard on each side, and you take those hard stances into the urban classroom or in the meeting rooms when discussing education policy, be assured that no one will ever accuse you of ending poverty. With that frame of thinking, it is impossible. Hard stances like that set people of color up for failure.
In any educational discussion regarding poor children of color, we need a philosophical balance that accounts for the truths offered by both perspectives. Unfortunately, such discussions are often led by those with a culturalist point of view. However, here is a news flash for white lawmakers. People of color, particularly those among the poor, tend to have strong work ethics and believe in accountability for themselves and their children. These are lessons shared in black and Latino households daily.
Maybe white lawmakers should consider things beyond the control of blacks and Latinos in high poverty areas, like the fact that federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, amounting to $15,080 per year. According to the 2014 poverty guidelines, the poverty line for a family of three is $19,790 per year. According to the Obama administration, women only get paid 78 cents to every dollar a man makes (64 cents for Black women and 56 cents for Latinas).There are a lot of female led single-family households in high poverty areas. Let’s not forget the fact that the average cost of child care for an infant in the United States is a little more than $800 per month. These things are not issues of culture. Rather, they are institutional and structural hindrances for many residents of high poverty areas.
For the conservatives, portability is about injecting market forces and choice in public education. Maybe they and others should consider facilitating market changes to inject economic sustainability in the lives of low income public education parents. Maybe then, we could honestly say that no child is being left behind.
Author: Randy R. Miller is an author and executive director of Manifesting Opportunities for Renewal and Empowerment, an education organization focused on empowering urban youth in the areas of academics and employment. He is currently a doctoral student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey studying public affairs and community development. Randy can be reached via email at [email protected].