For as long as I can remember, zip codes have always determined the income of households and the quality of education one receives in Georgia. In fact, I remember my parents advocating for me to get into specialty programs at schools in other communities that were in different areas of Atlanta. Even as a teacher, I still see the impact of zip codes on how schools are supported, which jobs are offered to parents, and how it connects to racial biases we see in American systems.
We need to change this stigma of zip codes which determine income and educational equity.
We can begin doing this by reforming public school policies in our efforts to dismantle the public education system. It’s not enough to simply offer various schools of choice. We must do the work to protect them, too! By creating an equitable education department, we set a clear standard of non-biased educational practices and culturally inclusive curricula. This can change how funds are distributed to schools. The funding formula in Georgia is currently connected to the zip code you live in and does not ensure that all children in public schools receive a free and equitable education.
The zip code you live in shouldn’t determine if you live a happy life or struggle in poverty.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a new report titled, “What you make depends on where you live: College Earnings Across States and Metropolitan Areas.” This report is the first to examine differences in the “college earnings premium” by geographic area, and how this varies across states, large metropolitan areas, and non-metropolitan rural areas. To their knowledge, all prior studies have only reported a national average relative to the college earnings premium. Zip codes determine the economic make-up of many Georgia communities that impacts the funding of schools. Moreover, it continues to widen the economic and educational gaps of Black and brown communities.
The study reflects that Georgia has one of the highest premiums for bachelor’s degrees, compared to workers with associate degrees and those with high school diplomas. Georgia was also one of the top two states with the highest bachelor’s degree (versus associate degree) premiums for Hispanic workers.
According to the study, Georgians with bachelor’s degrees earn 66.0 percent more than those with associate degrees ($90,952 versus $54,799) and 101.0 percent more than those with high school diplomas. This is displayed in Figure GA-1 in the study. This reminds me of my work in family engagement in Atlanta. We had high numbers of parents who hadn’t graduated high school and were struggling to earn their GED. District GED programs are often harder for participants because they lack the engagement and accommodations that qualified SPED and General Ed teachers in P-12 can provide. Once the GED participants obtain their GED, it’s much harder to get them to move towards earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This also impacts the funding formula in Georgia public schools.
Race + zip code impacts the funding formula for Georgia public schools which negatively impact schools in lower-income communities.
We often don’t look at the viewpoint of those Black and brown high school students who don’t see the value in education because they see their community struggles from poverty. Poverty that is caused by failing public school districts that don’t invest in preventative measures to increase the academic successes of these students. Areas such as family engagement, SEL, restorative justice initiatives i.e. reforming biased behavior, discipline, and attendance policies, and most importantly, culturally inclusive curricula in schools with staff add to the high number of Black and brown students dropping out, then earning GED’s but not obtaining higher education degrees.
However, the education earnings premiums broken down by race reflects that premiums are still higher for white workers than for Black and Hispanic workers. The study reflects how race does impact the economic and educational advancement of citizens. For example, Black bachelor’s degree holders in Georgia earn 40.1 percent more than Black workers with associate degrees and 66.3 percent more than black high school graduates in the state. Hispanic bachelor’s degree holders earn 56.6 percent more than Hispanic workers with associate degrees and 76.6 percent more than Hispanic high school graduates in the state. For white workers in Georgia, bachelor’s degree holders enjoy a 67.7 percent premium over associate degree holders and a 102.9 percent earnings premium relative to high school graduates according to Figure GA-4. If you look up the budgets for each school district with this data, you can see the impacts on lower-income communities across the state. This also is reflected in suspension and drop out rates.
Economics directly impacts education and the equity of resources provided to public schools.
The current crisis has reinforced deep chasms and inequities that exist in our economy and society. Many of them stemming from fault-lines in educational attainment. This is the time where parents across the nation should be holding local and state elected officials accountable for making the necessary changes to improve public education.
This timely report will provide important information to parents and young Americans; especially those in high school and college who are making key decisions about their future in the difficult months ahead. It also speaks to the need for more Georgia public schools to have support with college and career readiness standards in elementary and middle schools. But due to outdated public school funding formulas, districts across the state are facing severe budget cuts.
We must demand change!
We must ensure local school board members are not only held accountable but State Superintendents too. We can’t simply stand in boardrooms and demand change. We need to push for legislative changes. Presenting proposals by working collectively together to get funding sent to the right areas. One change in particular is demanding a new funding formula for schools. We need to better create revenue for public schools that isn’t tied to a communities zip code. Big companies offering jobs paying inequitable wages to communities based on zip codes impacts the quality of education. Education inequalities are hidden prerequisites for advancing into higher education and the workforce.
Pushing our legislators to make changes to the funding formula will help to dismantle the systemic racism we see in the lack of teachers of color, pay inequities in public schools, lack of male educators of color who are social workers and counselors, disproportionate numbers of Black and brown children in special education programs and the list goes on and on. We will continue to see this list if we don’t make legislative changes to how schools and communities are funded.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.