Excerpted from: Anjaleck Flowers, The Implied Promise of a Guaranteed Education in the United States and How the Failure to Deliver it Equitably Perpetuates Generational Poverty, 45 Mitchell Hamline Law Review 1 (2019) (284 Footnotes) (Full Document)
The United States is known as a country where anything is possible. Immigrants, foreigners, and citizens alike know what it means when someone says, “the American Dream”–that anything is achievable in the United States and that everyone has a chance to achieve their financial goals, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States and a former attorney, espoused this belief in his speech on March 6, 1860:
I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor, for his whole life. I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five [sic] years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat–just what might happen to any poor man’s son! I want every man to have the chance–and I believe a black man is entitled to it–in which he can better his condition–when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system. Lincoln’s speech shows that the American dream should be a possibility for every person in the United States. Although this article focuses on impoverished individuals and the hardships in changing their predictable outcomes, one cannot discuss poverty without factoring in the element of race. Unfortunately, poverty and race often go hand in hand. This paper will also touch on how impoverished persons with disabilities– particularly those who are minorities–face challenges in breaking the chains of generational poverty under the United States’ current laws and unfunded educational system. These mostly invisible barriers impact impoverished students as early as preschool, in ways that affect these students’ pipelines to college opportunities and overall career earnings.
This article will show that although there is no constitutional right to education at the federal level, all states have mandated compulsory education for children. The Fourteenth Amendment and case law further support the notion that the United States has promised and expects states to educate children in an equitable manner. The United States Supreme Court came very close to declaring that education is a right in Brown v. Board of Education by stating that “[s]uch an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Unfortunately, United States laws and policy have not financially and explicitly supported mandates under the law. Opportunity and education gaps for impoverished students exist at astounding rates in comparison to their non-impoverished peers. Laws, policy, resources–and an inquiry into how U.S. society views the idea of providing a thorough, well-rounded, and equitable education for all–can deliver the necessary changes to reduce the gaps. These factors have the potential to create pathways for every person to realistically have an opportunity to change their financial trajectory in life, regardless of where that person’s financial journey at birth begins.
This article will also examine the history of compulsory education law and share data that reveals educational inequities relating to poverty and inadequate resources necessary to fulfill the educational obligations under the law. Finally, this article will share the research-based practical solutions shown to help reduce the implications of adverse financial outcomes of impoverished students–solutions that provide alternatives to continuing the status quo of the current U.S. education system.. .]
Closing the achievement and financial gaps ultimately helps students in poverty–including minority students and students with disabilities–to end generational poverty. Providing these students with resources to get a quality education will help them build strong financial futures. Supporting future generations of students helps strengthen the nation in its entirety. As stated in Brown v. Board of Education,“[i]n these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” This education must be one of quality, with standards of adequacy and minimum levels of achievement. Without education, the cycle of generational poverty simply repeats and perpetuates. Education must be the disrupter to interrupt and stop the pervasive cycle of financial disparity.
The income and achievement gaps are also signs of a bigger impact on quality of life. Sufficient and equitable education is a tool that can help everyone achieve a better quality of life. The U.S. education system may not be intentionally causing these disparities, but the U.S. education system must be intentional about bringing these disparities to an end.
Anjie Flowers currently works as the Deputy General Counsel for Minneapolis Public Schools.