People talk about how respectable families need to live in the suburbs because inner city schools are really bad. But whenever I explore the suburban landscape I discover that the suburbs are also divided up by school district. For every one desirable suburban school there are five or six substandard ones.
Keep in mind, the idea of a “good” or “bad” school is largely determined by who goes to that school. The “good” schools are attended by the children of the well-off. The “bad” schools are where the not-so-prosperous families send their kids. You don’t want your kids going to the wrong school and hanging out with the bad kids. So you buy a more expensive house in a better district. If you can’t manage to pay extra then you and your kids are the de facto undeserving rejects. Or maybe you just don’t love your children enough to give them the best possible chance at a happy life by mortgaging yourself into endless wage slavery.
Back in the early 1990’s Governor Jim Florio of New Jersey proposed a system that would levy a tax on waterfront property (a proxy for wealth) and distribute the proceeds to underfunded schools across the state. He was trying to level the playing field. He was called a communist and was voted out of office. Americans like the system as it is. Uneven school quality isn’t a bug in the system. It’s a feature. This is how we like things. Want your kids to go to a good school? Pay up. Can’t manage? Suck it up. We don’t want you here.
An old college room mate came to visit me recently. He and his wife just bought a house in the suburbs in anticipation of their son starting school in a couple of years. It’s a nice place. It’s also fantastically expensive relative to what they could have bought just a few miles away in one of the “bad” school districts. But he wants to give his son the very best. The new mortgage is very stressful.
He was here in the Bay Area drumming up business to pay for that huge mortgage. He noticed how bad the schools are in many of the locations where his clients have offices. Young professionals arrive, take great jobs, live in a trendy condo, get married, then move the moment their first kid approaches age five. “Why don’t they just make the schools better? The town has plenty of money.” Well… Single family homes loaded with school age children pay less in taxes than they consume in local government services – mostly schools. Why would any town want to burden itself like that? They’re losers from a municipal finance perspective. Office parks, childless condo complexes, and shopping centers are cash cows. That’s a feature, not a bug.