A child has only one shot at a quality education, so no one should fault parents for going to extraordinary lengths to make it count. There is, however, a disturbing side to this trend, according to Emory University researcher Sabino Kornrich and others.
Wealthy parents are increasing their education spending so much that middle- and lower-class parents can’t keep pace. As the education spending gap widens, so does the nation’s wealth gap. The rich get richer and the poor stay poor, which is not a healthy condition for a society that counts on education being the great equalizer to improve the lives of less-well-off families.
Kornrich’s research shows that the top 10 percent of earners — those with incomes averaging $253,146 and up — were able to double down on education during the 2007-09 recession. Their average annual spending increased 35 percent, to $5,210. Meanwhile, education spending among the bottom 90 percent of earners went up just 10 percent, to $1,062. The gap widened further after the recession, with the top 10 percent averaging $5,495 vs. $1,088 for the bottom 90 percent.
Although this trend is not new to Dallas residents, it’s one we cannot afford to be complacent about. The city has long faced a significant wealth gap and is struggling to improve Dallas ISD enough to keep children from fleeing its schools and parents from fleeing to the suburbs. This research underscores the fact that parents who have the cash will take every opportunity they can to invest in their children’s education, from elite pre-K programs to costly tutors, and from private school tuition to more expensive houses in the best school districts.
The research also shows that the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. Clearly, public schools must do more to compete or risk the erosion of a city’s tax base and the quality of its workforce. Both Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and DISD Superintendent Mike Miles have warned of the corrosive effects of such trends. So has this newspaper, which believes that a quality education is crucial to improving the quality of life citywide. Wide wealth gaps aren’t good for a city, a state or a country.
If there weren’t enough good reasons already to embrace strong public schools and neighborhoods, Kornrich’s research may provide the best one yet.