Virginia’s upside down tax system is one reason why we don’t have enough money to support core services like public education. A recent report from the Commonwealth Institute points out that, “the lowest-income workers pay 8.9 percent of their incomes in taxes while the richest 1 percent only pay 5.1 percent.”
On another topic, it is increasingly clear that Virginia’s approach to solving the problems faced by our “Low Performing Schools” will take long-term solutions, including changing housing policies. We are blaming teachers, administrators, and school divisions for the consequences of policies which have concentrated poverty. In the 19th century, as John Moeser of the University of Richmond asserts, “blacks and whites lived in close proximity.” The policies of the 20th century changed things. These policies – race-based zoning codes (first adopted in Baltimore and later ruled unconstitutional), private covenants (deed restrictions on selling to “Negros and Jews”), bans on interracial marriage and accompanying bans on living in neighborhoods with those you could not marry, redlining (charging more for services like banking and insurance in minority neighborhoods), and the concentration of public housing in impoverished neighborhoods – have resulted in a concentration of poverty which leads to low educational achievement, high crime, and poor health. Our cities are more segregated than ever.
Monday’s New York Times has an excellent article on the impact of concentrated poverty on children’s futures, and the accompanying interactive map is most revealing. Check out Roanoke, Richmond, Petersburg, and Norfolk and contrast them with Fairfax.
Although we must do all we can in the short run to improve our low-performing schools, we also need to get real about the long, slow task of changing our housing policies to incentivize the de-concentration of poverty. The policies of the 21st Century must counter those of the 20th. All educators need to stand up for our urban colleagues when they are blamed for what they can’t control, and, for the sake of our nation’s poor children, we need to stand up for changes in our housing policies that will de-concentrate poverty.