It costs money to be poor. As the feature article in yesterday’s Washington Post Style section lays out, individuals living below the poverty line pay more for many things middle and upper income people consider basics, including food and banking services.
These markets–for fresh food from grocery stores, and checking and savings accounts from mainstream banks–have failed in many low-income, urban neighborhoods. Despite a high number of customers and sufficient wealth to support large, full-service grocery stores and mainstream bank branches, many of these neighborhoods haven’t seen either in decades. The result is what some advocates call “food deserts”–communities with little or no access to fresh food, like fruits and vegetables. And it means that the little money low-income families may have to save at the end of the month goes to check cashing fees and outrageous annual interest rates for short-term loans.
Given the failure of these other markets in low-income, urban neighborhoods, why should we expect education markets to succeed in bringing higher quality schools to these communities?
This is the question that started our research for Food for Thought – the Education Sector report released today. And what we found was that we shouldn’t expect education markets to do a better job of serving low-income families – not without dedicated attention from community leaders, policymakers, school operators and entities like charter school authorizers to actively building a quality supply of education providers and also establishing the informed demand necessary support a market focused on school quality.
As it turns out, advocates working to improve the markets for fresh foods and mainstream banking have some lessons for education and can provide strategies for establishing a marketplace that is focused on quality and meets the needs of individual communities. To find out more about these strategies, read Food for Thought here.