At the college level, the divergence in per-pupil spending is staggering. Since the 1960s, annual per-pupil spending at the most selective public and private colleges has increased at twice the rate of the least selective colleges. By 2006, the funding chasm in spending per student between the most and the least selective colleges was six times larger than in the late 1960s.
In short, more money is being spent on wealthy students who have never been more prepared to excel in college. Meanwhile, poorer students who are less prepared — those who a generation ago would not have even enrolled in college — are getting a smaller slice of higher education spending. According to a study by the demographer John Bound and his colleagues, lack of institutional resources explains up to two-thirds of the increase in dropout rates at lower-tier colleges.
Of course, this divergence in educational investments begins long before college. Wealthy parents are piling on cognitive enrichment activities outside of school from preschool on up, and at a rate that is leaving everyone else in the dust. Schools could make up some of the difference by intensively investing in poor children, and the majority of richer countries do just that — spending more per pupil in lower-income districts than in higher-income districts. But it is the reverse in the United States, in large part because, unlike most other advanced countries, revenues for public schools continue to be raised mostly from local property taxes.
We continue to argue that we need to be better than the other countries, but we fail to follow their lessons. Public colleges and community colleges are becoming less selective to increase student enrollment, but that is exactly the wrong move. Cory Heidelberger writes about teacher education in South Dakota and the need to make admission into teacher training more rigorous. I think this is the case for all schools. Make the programs as rigorous as those in top counties like Finland and Sweden, but note that they offer free college for the best students up through the attainment of a Master's degree. Bills like SB 5 and SB 15 will have any little real impact.