Education – a Better Way to Address Income Disparities

An emerging theme of the Obama administration – one foretold by then candidate Barack Obama’s impromptu campaign chat with “Joe the Plumber” – is redistributing wealth to address America’s income disparities.

I have a better idea, one that (thankfully) President Obama and Gov. Jim Doyle are taking some steps to achieve. Rather than income redistribution, why don’t we do a better job educating economically disadvantaged kids SO THEY HAVE THE SKILLS TO MAKE THEMSELVES MORE MARKETABLE TO EMPLOYERS AND COMMAND HIGHER INCOMES!

Doesn’t that make more sense than robbing Peter to subsidize Paul? The business community in Wisconsin has been pleading with public officials to improve the educational attainment of Milwaukee Public School students, a potential source of 85,000 current and/or future employees annually. That message finally is getting through to the likes of Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who have announced plans to reform the underachieving school district. Hopefully, they will go beyond the financial mismanagement of MPS.

Meanwhile, President Obama has expanded both funding and eligibility for the federal Pell Grant program, which provides grants to economically disadvantaged students to attend college. This worthwhile program has the potential to promote upward mobility – something I’m happy to pay more taxes for. Before Pell Grants can promote greater advancement, we have to help more economically disadvantaged students raise their K-12 performance.

That’s why I’m encouraged to see Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stress improvements in teacher effectiveness. The Secretary says he is committed to having highly qualified teachers in every school, including underperforming ones. If that means incentivizing (with more pay) our best teachers to ply their skills in challenged schools, so be it. Rather than some of the porky spending contained in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, why didn’t we set aside some funds for that?

Obviously, qualitative improvements aren’t the only answer. Parents will have to hold their children more accountable for taking their education seriously; as I stated before, the kids, themselves, have to raise their games. Perhaps the first African American President will provide all the inspiration needed for more kids to pursue careers as doctors, teachers, technology professionals, and entrepreneurs. Why not?

There is a large potential supply of answers to labor shortages that will re-emerge when the American economy regains traction, and those answers can be found in our Central City schools. To make them actual, highly trained solutions, we can no longer accept a failed status quo.