College tuition and public school funding in general are two aspects of
a trend in America which is deeply troubling, and threatening to our
nation’s future. That trend is the loss of equality of opportunity,
leading to the loss of social mobility and the stratification of our
Equality of opportunity is part of the bedrock of our nation. The
Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, and
have the right to pursue happiness. In today’s world, this is an almost
meaningless promise unless a good education is available to all. In
today’s world, with ever-advancing technology and globalization, there
is less and less opportunity of any kind for those without an education
that equips them to succeed. Equality of opportunity now requires a
quality education. For the great majority of us, no institution other
than government can fulfill this need.
Instead of recognizing and meeting the challenge of providing access to
quality education, we are reducing such access in a variety of ways.
– By dramatically increasing tuition in both private
and public colleges and universities. Increased student aid for lower
income families and
student loans are partial, inadequate, and burdensome
attempts to respond to the problem.
– By laws such as Proposition 13 which not only limit
public school funding, but also have shifted the tax burden from
to individual homeowners.
– By laws which require a supermajority vote to impose
local property taxes, even if specifically designated for schools.
– By rules which make it impossible or incredibly
difficult to cull poor teachers.
– By pay structures in the public schools that not only
make it impossible to reward good teachers, but also make it impossible
to hire enough
good math and science teachers.
Even if one cares nothing for the ideal of equal opportunity as a moral
matter, there are serious practical consequences which should concern
In a competitive world, America cannot afford, economically, a situation
where large parts of the population are poorly educated and therefore
unable to fill the available jobs. Nor can we expect to maintain a
politically healthy democracy if large numbers of potential voters are
poorly educated, since poor education usually means poorly informed. A
recent study by the International Monetary Fund (might have been the
World Bank?) came to the conclusion that excessive inequality, by
itself, had substantial negative effects on the economic growth in both
Europe and the United States.
Other recent tax law changes, at the federal level, are making the
problem worse. When parents, even without any sophisticated planning,
can transfer over $10,000,000 (now increasing each year for inflation)
to their children free of estate tax, it is naturally a recipe for
creating an inherited aristocracy, or plutocracy. Titles such as duke or
baron are not required. Inherited wealth is sufficient. We are allowing
our educational system, which should be the most important counterweight
to inequality, to degrade. At some point, the American people will
conclude that upward social mobility, which has been the American dream,
is dead. That will be dangerous.