184 Reading: Universal Access to Education

Access to Education

Another global concern in education is universal access. This term refers to people’s equal ability to participate in an education system. On a world level, access might be more difficult for certain groups based on class or gender (as was the case in the United States earlier in the nation’s history, a dynamic we still struggle to overcome). The modern idea of universal access arose in the United States as a concern for people with disabilities. In the United States, one way in which universal education is supported is through federal and state governments covering the cost of free public education. Of course, the way this plays out in terms of school budgets and taxes makes this an often-contested topic on the national, state, and community levels.

A graph titled Public Elementary-Secondary School System Revenue by Source and State: Fiscal Year 2012. The graph shows how much money schools in all 50 states get from federal revenue, state revenue, and local revenue. South Dakota gets about 1.2 billion total funding. North Dakota gets about 1.2 billion total funding. The District of Columbia gets about 1.25 billion total funding. Vermont gets about 1.6 billion in funding. Montana gets about 1.62 billion total funding. Wyoming gets about 1.62 billion in funding. Delaware gets about 1.8 billion total funding. Idaho gets about 1.9 billion total funding. Rhode Island gets about 2.1 billion total funding. Alaska gets about 2.2 billion total funding. Hawaii gets about 2.5 billion total funding. Maine gets about 2.5 billion total funding. New Hampshire gets about 2.7 billion total funding. New Mexico gets about 3.5 billon total funding. Nebraska gets about 3.6 billion total funding. West Virginia gets about 3.9 billion total funding. Nevada gets about 4.1 billion total funding. Utah gets about 4.15 billion total funding. Mississippi gets about 4.3 billion total funding. Arkansas gets about 5.1 billion total funding. Kansas gets about 5.5 billion total funding. Oklahoma gets about 5.6 billion total funding. Iowa gets about 6 billion total funding. Oregon gets about 6 billion total funding. Alabama gets about 7 billion total funding. Kentucky gets about 7 billion total funding. Arizona gets about 7.2 billion total funding. South Carolina gets about 7.2 billion total funding. Louisiana gets about 7.3 billion total funding. Colorado gets about 8 billion total funding. Tennessee gets about 8.3 billion total funding. Connecticut gets about 9.9 billion total funding. Missouri gets about 9.9 billion total funding. Wisconsin gets about 11 billion total funding. Washington gets about 12 billion total funding. Indiana gets about 13 billion total funding. North Carolina gets about 13.5 billion total funding. Maryland gets about 14 billion total funding. Virginia gets about 10.5 billion total funding. Massachusetts gets about 16 billion total funding. Georgia gets about 18 billion total funding. Michigan 18 billion total funding. Ohio gets about 22 billion total funding. Florida gets about 24 billion total funding. Pennsylvania gets about 26 billion total funding. New Jersey gets about 24 billion total funding. Illinois gets about 28 billion total funding. Texas gets about 49 billion total funding. New York gets about 58 billion total funding. California gets about 65 billion total funding.
How has your state’s revenue affected your educational opportunities? (Graph courtesy of Census of Governments: Survey of School System Finances 2012)

A precedent for universal access to education in the United States was set with the 1972 U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision in Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. This case was brought on the behalf of seven school-age children with special needs who argued that the school board was denying their access to free public education. The school board maintained that the children’s “exceptional” needs, which included mental retardation and mental illness, precluded their right to be educated for free in a public school setting. The board argued that the cost of educating these children would be too expensive and that the children would therefore have to remain at home without access to education.

This case was resolved in a hearing without any trial. The judge, Joseph Cornelius Waddy, upheld the students’ right to education, finding that they were to be given either public education services or private education paid for by the Washington, D.C., board of education. He noted that

Constitutional rights must be afforded citizens despite the greater expense involved … the District of Columbia’s interest in educating the excluded children clearly must outweigh its interest in preserving its financial resources. … The inadequacies of the District of Columbia Public School System whether occasioned by insufficient funding or administrative inefficiency, certainly cannot be permitted to bear more heavily on the “exceptional” or handicapped child than on the normal child (Mills v. Board of Education 1972).

Today, the optimal way to include differently abled students in standard classrooms is still being researched and debated. “Inclusion” is a method that involves complete immersion in a standard classroom, whereas “mainstreaming” balances time in a special-needs classroom with standard classroom participation. There continues to be social debate surrounding how to implement the ideal of universal access to education.

Further Research

Though it’s a struggle, education is continually being improved in the developing world. To learn how educational programs are being fostered worldwide, explore the Education section of the Center for Global Development’s website.

Think It Over

Do you believe free access to schools has achieved its intended goal? Explain.

Practice

1. The 1972 case Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia set a precedent for __________.
  1. access to education
  2. average spending on students
  3. desegregation of schools
  4. teacher salary
Show Answer

a

Show Glossary
universal access:
the equal ability of all people to participate in an education system

Self-Check: Global Education

You’ll have more success on the Self-Check, if you’ve completed both Readings in this section.

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Introduction to Sociology by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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