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Forum 30:

Public Education and the Social Contract in an Age of Diversity and Division

Held Thursday, February 23, 2017

Forum Summary

Where does the social contract guaranteeing equal access to quality education reside? Not in the U.S. Constitution, which laid the foundation for educational inequality by delegating the responsibility for public education to the states. Nor does it reside in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which has been used to uphold wealth-based disparities in public education financing. As states divert tax revenues to cover Medicare and other entitlements, the nation’s commitment to public higher education has waned. To make up for budget shortfalls, public institutions have adopted the twin strategies of raising tuition and recruiting out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. This approach stymies social mobility by favoring students from affluent families and limiting access to economically disadvantaged students, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic. Building on the premise that closing achievement gaps is an economic imperative both to regain international educational supremacy and to maintain global economic competitiveness, I ask whether it is possible to rewrite the social contract so that education is a fundamental right—a statutory guarantee—that is both uniform across states and federally enforceable.

Publications Related to this Forum

View Tienda's publications relevant to this forum: “Economic Implications of Demographic Change: Diversity Dividend or Deficit?” (2016); “Texas’ Education Challenge: A Demographic Dividend or Bust?” (2015); and “Diversity ≠ Inclusion: Promoting Integration in Higher Education” (2013).