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Americans like to believe that education can be a great equalizer, allowing even the poorest child who studies hard to enter the middle class. But when I looked at what academic researchers and federal data reports have said about the great educational divide between the rich and poor in our country, that belief turns out to be a myth. Basic education, from kindergarten through high school, only expands the disparities.
In 2015, during the Obama administration, the federal education department issued a report that showed how the funding gap between rich and poor schools grew 44 percent over a decade between 2001-2 and 2011-12. That meant that the richest 25 percent of school districts spent $1,500 more per student, on average, than the poorest 25 percent of school districts.
I wish I could have continued to track this data between rich and poor schools to see if school spending had grown more fair. But the Trump administration crunched the numbers differently. When it issued a report in 2018, covering the 2014-15 school year, it found that the wealthiest 25 percent of districts spent $450 more per student than the poorest 25 percent.
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That didn’t mean there was a giant 70 percent improvement from $1,500. The Trump administration added together all sources of funds, including federal funding, which amounts to 8 percent of total school spending, while the Obama administration excluded federal funds, counting only state and local dollars, which make up more than 90 percent of education funds. The Obama administration argued at the time that federal funds for poor students were intended to supplement local funds because it takes more resources to overcome childhood poverty, not to create a level playing field.