Income inequality’s best friend? Failing schools

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The link between educational attainment and income is well established, which is why I’m hardly surprised that income inequality is getting worse.

As the past eight years have demonstrated, the solution is not massive wealth redistribution. Nationally, we’ve accumulated almost as much debt in the past seven years as we did in the first 230 years of our history. Much of that was devoted to moving wealth around, yet income inequality persists.

The real solution over time is to stop settling for the substandard educational options presented to low-income students. It’s a matter of complete indifference to me whether the solution is to improve the performance of public schools, establish public charter schools, pump more money into school choice programs, or a combination of all three. Just get the job done — whatever it takes.

Even though Madison has a lot of work to do in this area, especially for black students, local residents aren’t willing to embrace initiatives such as Kaleem Caire’s Madison Prep Academy. Instead, they are willing to give the school district more time to improve outcomes for economically disadvantaged students, which Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has vowed to do. I wish her well.

In Milwaukee, where the public school district has 48 failing schools, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, far too many children are reaching the third grade without being able to read at the expected level. That’s the point when they are supposed to transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Unless they catch up they will struggle academically and be at risk of dropping out. At that point they’ll be up against it their entire life, so reading has to be an early childhood focus at home, daycare, Head Start, and other preschool programs.

The solution to income equality isn’t to tax almost every last dime from high achievers, it’s to elevate children at risk of underachieving. So when the presidential candidates talk about their solutions to income inequality, listen carefully. Will they continue to do the bidding of those who are indifferent to a failed status quo? Or will they fight the good fight for economically disadvantaged children of all racial backgrounds? The answer will tell you how serious they really are about reducing the gap between rich and poor.

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