Comparable Funding for High Poverty Schools?

10/21/2010 01:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I spent a bit of time poking through the Obama administration's blueprint for reforming American education this weekend and came across this rather interesting bit on funding for high poverty schools:

"To give every student a fair chance to succeed and give principals and teachers the resources to support student success, we will encourage increased resource equity at every level of the system.

Over time, districts will be required to ensure that their high-poverty schools receive state and local funding levels...comparable to those received by their low-poverty schools."

As a teacher who has spent my entire career working in the upper-middle class suburbs of North Carolina, seeing our federal government urging states and districts to ensure comparable funding for low-poverty schools left me sick to my stomach.

Here's why: Having seen first-hand the kinds of experiences that my relatively well-off students have beyond school, I know full well that encouraging nothing more than comparable funding for high-poverty schools will still leave thousands of kids behind.

Need proof?

  • Consider that my students rarely come to school hungry or tired because their parents are struggling to meet even the basic needs of their families.
  • Consider that my students rarely struggle to put their hands on basic learning supplies like pencils, pens and Internet connections.
  • Consider that my students rarely have parents who speak second languages or who work second jobs.
  • Consider that my students rarely have unaddressed health problems--toothaches, eyesight issues, ongoing colds--that interfere with learning or lead to high absenteeism.

Need more proof?

  • Consider that my students are almost always involved in multiple after-school learning experiences; They play on teams, take music lessons, have tutors, go to summer camps.
  • Consider that my students are almost always surrounded by piles of books from the time that they are born.
  • Consider that my students almost always attend two years of educational preschool before even entering the public school system.
  • Consider that my students almost always take interesting vacations to learning-centered destinations -- Washington D.C., Europe, the Grand Canyon.
  • Consider that my students are almost always surrounded by adult role models who have graduated from four-year universities.

Need still more proof?

  • Then consider the greatest professional shame of my career. I fled the only high-poverty school that I ever worked in after one school year because the challenges of working with students who were so far behind their suburban peers were personally and professionally overwhelming.

That embarrasses me. I intentionally gave up on students who needed me. But it should also embarrass policymakers who think that comparable funding for high-poverty schools is enough.

Sure, there will always be examples of students and families pulling up their bootstraps to overcome their circumstances and succeed in spite of the crippling barriers of poverty.

But let's stop pretending that tugging on bootstraps alone is a reform strategy for every family living a silent war. Overcoming circumstances depends on a commitment to equitable -- instead of equal -- funding for America's high-poverty schools.