Morning Must Reads: Inequality of Opportunity in Politics and in Erie County

Thanks to the Occupy Movement, inequality has become a major issue in the Presidential campaign. While taking on the recent campaign developments, Paul Krugman does a nice job summing up what is wrong in America today.

The failure starts early: in America, the holes in the social safety net mean that both low-income mothers and their children are all too likely to suffer from poor nutrition and receive inadequate health care. It continues once children reach school age, where they encounter a system in which the affluent send their kids to good, well-financed public schools or, if they choose, to private schools, while less-advantaged children get a far worse education.

Once they reach college age, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to go to college — and vastly less likely to go to a top-tier school — than those luckier in their parentage. At the most selective, “Tier 1” schools, 74 percent of the entering class comes from the quarter of households that have the highest “socioeconomic status”; only 3 percent comes from the bottom quarter.

And if children from our society’s lower rungs do manage to make it into a good college, the lack of financial support makes them far more likely to drop out than the children of the affluent, even if they have as much or more native ability. One long-term study by the Department of Education found that students with high test scores but low-income parents were less likely to complete college than students with low scores but affluent parents — loosely speaking, that smart poor kids are less likely than dumb rich kids to get a degree.

You can see these failures on display here in Pennsylvania. In the city of Erie, where 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, the weak economy and state budget cuts have forced the schools there to scale back music education. Outside the city, where poverty is lower, music education continues to thrive.

Budget cuts squarely hit music education in Erie this school year.

Because of cuts in the Erie School District, elementary-school music teachers now split time between multiple schools, meaning each student gets less time in music class. And high school programs have been ailing for even longer...

But travel outside the city, and you will see music education is still thriving.

Although state funding cuts led to a tight budget year for many schools, music programs elsewhere in Erie County survived relatively unscathed...

Fewer students involved in music is a problem because music students typically have higher graduation rates and better scores on standardized tests and college placement exams, according to the National Association for Music Education — an advocacy group for music teachers.

Since we’re are on the top of education spending, The Albert Shanker Institute has reviewed the research and concludes how much you spend does matter (PDF).

And finally on the topic of budgets and taxes, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) takes a closer look at the job creation claims of the natural gas industry.

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