My graduating class was relatively big in high school. 500+ kids walked the stage with me. 9 out of the top 10 in our class currently attend Ivy League schools. The graduation rate was greater than 99%. My school happened to be a public school. I was lucky enough to grow up in Connecticut which Forbes ranked as having the number 2 public education system in the country. Ignorantly, I assumed my school was diverse and that the other public school systems in CT had similar standards. But as I got older, and began to better understand the environment I lived in, I realized that my town was a perfect representation of the racial wealth and education gap.
East Hartford, the town right next to my town, Glastonbury, helps to explain how the racial wealth gap works. The racial demographics of Glastonbury are 85% white and 1% black. For East Hartford, it is 35% white and 28% black. Obviously, Glastonbury is not very diverse. In terms of income and wealth, Glastonbury has a median income of $112,000, while East Hartford’s is $52,000.
So, these towns seem like polar opposites, even though they are right next to each other. Another glaring difference is their respective public school systems. In Niche.com, Glastonbury public schools were ranked 2nd in the state. East Hartford public schools were ranked 87th. How does all this contribute to the racial wealth gap?
First, property taxes and other taxes in Glastonbury are high. Much of this money gets put towards schools, primarily teachers’ salaries. Because Glastonbury offers such high salaries and great benefits, the hiring process for teachers here is super competitive, so we end up with some of the best teachers. One of my teachers for physics won CT state teacher of the year and ended up as a finalist for national teacher of the year.
But because these taxes are high, only wealthy people can afford to live here. This shows the cycle of wealth that poorer people are not included in. Wealthy people pay the premium to live here, but because the school system is so good, the property is worth a lot of money so it is a good investment. And since African-Americans are less wealthy at a higher rate, towns like Glastonbury will be disproportionately white.
To make matters worse, towns like East Hartford end up being disproportionately African American because the cost of living is cheaper, but the school system is also worse. Less kids go to college, the class sizes are bigger, and there is overall less money put into the public schools. Therefore, they end up being less educated than kids in towns like Glastonbury. This once again keeps the vicious cycle of lack of wealth going, whereas in Glastonbury, those kids go to college and once again have wealth and higher incomes in which to move to another town with good schools for their kids.
Of course, Glastonbury did have some programs to work on giving kids whose families could not afford to live in Glastonbury access to high quality education. These programs let kids from Hartford, which has an even lower median income than East Hartford, attend Glastonbury public schools. This can help break the cycle of poverty for these kids, as with higher quality education, they will have a better chance to build wealth in the future. Overall though, this is on a minuscule scale. Any real change would take systematic change. This change would involve improving public schools in less wealthy areas so these kids actually have a chance to advance in income and wealth at a reasonable level. I was not totally aware of how fortunate I was to live in Glastonbury, but growing up here has given me opportunities that many others do not have, but the town also contributes to increasing the racial wealth divide.