Inheriting Opportunity: Public vs. Private Schools

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During college in Louisiana, I heard people say, “So much of life is the family one is born into,” I didn’t have a clue what this meant. My father was the first in several Louisiana generations to graduate college. He supported us by selling janitorial products and our mother, who didn’t graduate college, never worked. I’d never imagined life as the one-percent, the top ten percent, or even what it would be like to inherit significant sums of money. 

During my junior and senior years at an all boy’s New Orleans Catholic high school, I took the ACT three times before earning a fifteen – the minimum required for a Louisiana University. I was required to take remedial classes and had no idea that students who take remedial classes are far less likely to graduate. Five years later, I graduated. 

A decade later, the company I worked for paid for me to earn an MBA and post MBA, I went in-house to take other roles. I married a doctor and together we’ve invested well enough that on a good year, we are considered part of the so-called One-Percenters. Based on U.S. statistics, we are rich, and our kids know they are fortunate. What they don’t know is that if we invest well, our money will grow, and give or take a bit of luck – they may inherit several million each. 

My parents taught me that all Americans had the same opportunity, regardless of race, education and socioeconomic class. I once believed this misinformed worldview, but through my experiences as a young adult, along with raising children born to more opportunity than I was, I’ve learned otherwise.  Their opportunity will give them a leg up against most of their peers, especially when it comes to something as wildly as imbalanced as public vs private education. 

Our kids attend an extremely elite private school where kindergarten costs more than all five years of college. One year of high school is 75% of what my Executive MBA program cost and more than three years of my wife’s state run medical school. 

Public schools currently serve roughly 90 percent of American children. They tend to have less money, larger class sizes, and less flexibility to make changes to things like the curriculum, facilities, or work force – especially during a pandemic. These shortcomings have only been exacerbated by the current crisis, as counties and school boards around the nation deliberate opening in Fall. We must keep in mind that besides the challenges of running a school during a pandemic, parents of students face similar problems. 

In public schools, especially inner city and many rural farm communities, kids live with multiple generations of family. Some of these parents are essential workers, despite not having health care or other means of support. Though children face a significantly lower threat from the dangers of coronavirus, they can be symptomless carriers of the disease and pass it along to their older family members, whose lives are at a much greater risk. This leaves parents who don’t want to risk infection at school and who cannot afford child support while they work, with few options.

Our school however, where I just clicked off a Zoom with our headmaster and hundreds of parents, can choose whether to return or not, because private schools have different policies and more flexibility. Our school has invested millions of dollars in technology and hundreds of hours preparing for the COVID-era. They’ve bought the latest camera technology so our children can see their teacher and peers, in case virtual learning is needed. Within the classrooms, each student and teacher will have a shield around their desk and lunch will be delivered to class. Students and teachers are required to wear face masks at all times – doing otherwise is not an option. And upon entry to the school and throughout their day, children will have their temperature monitored by thermal scanners. It is vital to keep in mind that if our school, K-12, has two or more cases at a time, the school closes for deep cleaning, and the point of transmission is traced and assessed. Teachers, students, families, and employees are in this together and no one is forced to attend school.  

Can you imagine our underfunded and overcrowded public schools attempting this process? I can’t. 

This problem isn’t new. Public schools around the nation have been slowly defunded long before this pandemic began. Even though K-12 public schools received $13.5 billion from the federal coronavirus relief package this March, some of the aid ended up in the hands of numerous private schools. What a joke. Our crony Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, required that this money be shared with private schools. Why give federal money to private schools like ours where tuition exceeds thirty-grand a year? We don’t need it!

My wife and I are not asking for these breaks or complaining that we pay taxes that fund public schools. We believe that private schools should not receive federal dollars, while public schools struggle to create the basics of a safe environment for students, families, teachers and other employees. And with the hole in state and local tax revenue, public schools need a massive infusion of federal cash more than ever, if they are going to fight the challenges created by the COVID pandemic. 

My children and I are experiencing the widening gap that exists between the one-percent and the ninety-nine percent. Kids like ours will continue to have private coaches and piano lessons, while those with fewer chances at opportunity suffer from the realities of living in a country that doesn’t seem to care about their struggles. The underlying effects of underfunded public schools will be felt for decades to come, so let’s right this wrong now and give our schools the funding they need to give all American children the opportunities they deserve.

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