By David K. Shipler
Former Vice President Joe Biden must have had millions of Democrats wincing during last Thursday’s debate as he fumbled his way through a pointed question on racial inequality in schools. His sentences were incomplete, his thoughts jumped around erratically. He revealed, once again, his tin ear on race.
But if you distill his incoherent response—which did not directly answer the question of Americans’ obligations in the long wake of slavery—you can see that he actually identified the essence of key problems facing impoverished families and their schools. He displayed deeper understanding and proposed more solutions in a disjointed sound bite than all the other candidates combined.
Here is, annotated in italics:
“Well, they have to deal with the … Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where--” He doesn’t finish his thought, but he is pointing to banks’ long practice of denying mortgages to blacks and “redlining” poorer neighborhoods out of consideration for loans. That has contributed to entrenched poverty and de facto segregation by community, which has meant that schools have been segregated as well, by race and income.
“Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title One schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year.” Pumping more funds into poor schools is essential to improve kids’ life opportunities. That’s because education funding relies mostly on local property taxes, which create vast disparities in per-pupil expenditures between wealthy and poor school districts. What Biden does not say, and should, is that these difficulties, and others he mentions subsequently, afflict poor whites as well as blacks. There are public schools that don’t have enough textbooks for all students, and teachers pay out of their own pockets to photocopy chapters.