How lack of choice perpetuates racial economic disparity
I grew up in California, a state with no private school choice programs like tax credit or vouchers, and with schools that have been in decline since the 1970s. We don’t often talk about the fact that in states where there are no choice programs, parents are forced to make a different kind of hard choice.
We lived in Oakland, where the schools suffered from extreme segregation, high teacher turnover, virulent fiscal instability, and a school district that has a graduation rate that bounces between 58 and 67 percent. Because we were in Oakland and because the schools were rapidly plummeting downward, my mother decided that the only option was to send me to private school. Though we always qualified for financial aid, there was often a significant portion of the tuition that was the responsibility of the parent, usually about five to seven thousand dollars a year that my mother had to scrape together, which meant that was five to seven thousand dollars she could not save for the future. I think about that a lot. How would life be different if she had been able to save that money? How would life be different if there had been a tax credit scholarship in place to help cover that gap?
My mother never took vacations. She didn’t buy new clothes for herself. She took the bus when her car died, couldn’t afford the down payment on a house until I was thirteen, and it took my mum seven years to get her master’s degree, all because she chose to finance my K-12 education, and keep me out of failing schools. Believe it or not, those were the easy things about the choice she made. When I ask her, my mother says the most difficult part was that she knew her choice would affect my adult economic reality, and subsequently will affect my children’s.
My mother chose between saving for college and making sure I had safe, functioning schools that would give me a fighting chance to succeed.
I like to joke that in college I majored in “student loans” but the truth is, it isn’t all that funny. Black students statistically have twice as much student loan debt than white students. If you understand anything about the way compound interest works, you will grasp how that student loan debt imbalance helps to maintain the racially uneven distribution of wealth in this country. Black students graduate college with twice as much debt than their white counterparts. My student loan debt affects everything. It means that I won’t really begin saving for retirement until I am in my late 40s. It means that we had to delay buying a house. It means my husband and I have had to wait to start our own family, while most of my friends are on baby #2. It means that our pursuit of happiness is somewhat deferred.
We regularly talk about the glaringly obvious problems that come with reliance solely on traditional public education. We talk about out-of-date curriculum, about overworked teachers, about racially unbalanced outcomes, etc. But what we don’t often discuss is the idea of how a family without access to publicly funded educational options like tax credit scholarships or vouchers has a financial ripple effect that can span generations.