The Banking and Strategy Initiative

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Why High Schools Still Need Government Funding

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Historically, high schools have been funded primarily by local government agencies. State-level government provided minor financial support, and the federal government did not significantly contribute to high school funding. However by the1970s, high school funding increasingly became the responsibility of state-level government, with the role of the federal government also increasing over subsequent decades. Presently, local, state and federal governments fund high schools jointly. Roughly half of all high school funding comes from state-level government, with local government paying a significant share and federal government picking up around 15 percent of the overall tab.

As the federal government’s share of funding for high schools has increased, so too has the role of federal government in determining high-school educational policy throughout the United States. Ideally, government funding for education ensures a certain level of neutrality in the education students receives; a school that is funded by the government is obligated to follow certain curricula based on unbiased research. While this may seem concerning, recent trends show that the next best alternative is less appealing: private entities and for-profit companies.

When education is funded by private corporations, concern arises that corporate funders will seek to influence the education that students receive, or at the very least to gain advertising access to students. For example, the private prison corporation GEO Group was set to fund Florida Atlantic University’s new football stadium, in return for the stadium being named after the corporation; public outrage at this funding plan centered on the controversial practices of the GEO Group in operating for-profit correctional facilities and towards FAU for inherently providing publicity and advertising for such a corporation. This example highlights the educational, financial and moral tensions that can surface when institutions are forced to seek funding from private corporations.

There’s also a conflict of interest when private entities advertise potentially harmful products directly to students, in the sole place students are supposed to be free from bias. Roughly one-fifth of U.S. high schools sell branded fast foods on their premises. Fast-food advertising also exists on high-school sports’ scoreboards or through direct sponsorship of physical education classes and facilities. On the extreme end, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Pizza Hut go as far as providing incentives for academic or sporting achievement.

If high school funding by private entities continues to grow or overtake the contributions by government agencies, it is likely that advertising pressure in schools will only increase; it won’t be long before a corporate–sponsored school may be forced to include sponsor messages or material in textbooks. Furthermore schools seen as having unprofitable demographics or whose funding is otherwise too risky may be forced to shutdown. Government funding, through the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has historically made sure that at the point of access, public education is free and meets the demands of students with special needs and disabilities.

In essence, government funding for high schools enables a degree of ideological neutrality, accessibility for all, and protection from corporate advertising and pressures on students. Education is a right, and government funding for schools enables more individuals, overall, to access an education that otherwise would be left to the mercy of corporate interests.

Maxime Rieman writers for NerdWallet, a financial literacy site where you can read online stock trading reviews and find tips for managing your educational finances.

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