Recent data suggests that increased spending by the wealthy on education is increasing the achievement gap.
According to the experts, education is supposed to bridge the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Attending preschool can bring people out of poverty. High schools prepare students for college, and graduating college with a degree will result in higher pay over the course of a lifetime. Also, research suggests that the longer people stay in school, the better the US economy will perform.
However, research also suggests that because the wealthy are spending more on education, the nation’s wealth gap is increasing.
When the Great Recession began in 2007, the top 10% of earners in the country, making an average of $253,146, began to spend more on their children’s education. Average spending that year jumped 35% to $5,210 per year. However, the remaining 90% of the country did not fare so well, averaging about $1,000 per year, according to research by sociologist Sabino Kornrich at Emory University.
“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.
The higher amounts the wealthy are able to spend on their children’s education result in higher SAT scores, an increased chance of graduating from college, as well as better job security and higher wages.
“If you’re at the bottom and the top keeps pulling away, you’re just further behind,” said Melissa Kearney, a senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institution.
During the recession, enrollment at private elementary and secondary schools with tuition of around $28,000 increased 36% even as enrollment for private schools overall dropped.
“What we know about parents who send their kids to private school is that by and large they place a very high priority on education,” said John Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools. “As prices go up, they may be frustrated and angry, but they find a way to make it work.”
With the average national income relatively the same as it was in 1980, after providing for inflation, 90% of the population cannot compete. Average income for the top 10% has increased 80% after inflation, and for the top 1%, it has increased by 177%.
Federal programs like Head Start, which promotes healthy nutrition and quality education for young children, have been implemented to decrease the education divide. However, many states still rely on private preschool systems, which in turn increases the wealth gap.
Families spend more on education in other ways as well. In order to live in top school zones, families pay an average of 26% more on housing. Tutors are not cheap either. An SAT tutor on WyzAnt costs an average of $51.20 an hour, which is twice the national average of hourly pay.
“The worry is that it becomes a feedback loop, where the children of the rich do the best in school, and those who do best in school become rich,” Standford University professor Sean Reardon said.