In the Information Age into which the world has moved, the flattened world, those who have an excellent education will be able to find jobs that pay livable wages or enter into fields of endeavor that can provide a quality standard of living. Those who lack excellent education and skills will be increasingly marginalized and impoverished. In the South, the region from which I hail, 40 percent of the residents are low income and a new majority of students enrolled in the public schools are poor. That is too many people to ignore. The region’s (and the nation’s) economic, democratic, social and political future depends upon improving education for this mass of humankind.
The states in the South have limited tax bases on which to rely to effect education improvements. The decentralized system of public education finance ensures inequality in inputs and outcomes between and among school districts within states and between and among states. This patchwork is unacceptable and cannot be remedied without the leadership and intervention of the federal government. The amount of the public investment in the education of children should not be a function of geography or class.
It is for that reason that the Southern Education Foundation, a public charity that has since 1867 focused on equity and excellence in education for low-income students, recently began a scholarly examination of what might be wrought by various formulations of an education amendment to the United States Constitution. At the least, a national debate about such an amendment might focus public attention on the deep structural inequalities that need to be addressed. Whether through judicial interpretation, statutory law or constitutional amendment, it is time for a new national focus on and formulation of new policies/practices to better develop the nation’s most precious asset, its human capital.
I look forward to the Rodriguez conference and the stimulating dialogue and insights that it will provide.