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The Key to Fixing Income Inequality That Not Enough People Are Talking About

There are many ways to help increase economic opportunity for historically underserved or marginalized communities in the United States. One of the best ways is to encourage entrepreneurship in these communities. While reading “Including People of Color in the Promise of Entrepreneurship” from the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, I noticed the connection between entrepreneurship and education:

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Entrepreneurs that graduate college are more likely to have sales totaling more than $100,000 and more paid employees than high school graduates or dropouts do.

Asian and white Americans are more likely to have college degrees (50 percent and 29 percent respectively) than their black (18 percent) and Latino (13 percent) counterparts.

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Taken alone, these may not be surprising facts. But consider this (from the same report):

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U.S. entrepreneurs hold an impressive amount of wealth. While about one in 10 American workers, or 13 million people, are self-employed, they hold 37 percent of all wealth in the United States. The underrepresentation of people of color in this wealthy group has implications for racial income inequality and wealth disparity.

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When you combine this with the fact that college graduates are more likely to succeed in business and hire more people, then the importance of education for building not only wealth, but also entrepreneurship and employment in historically marginalized communities becomes clearer.

In other words, we have to address education if we want to shrink the gap between white people and everyone else when it comes to success in the business world. It should be noted that sources of funding and other concerns are also important in the conversation about minority entrepreneurship, but the focus of this article is on the education aspect.

Of course, graduating college is closely tied to the quality of education a student receives before they even start applying to colleges. This is where education reform comes in.

In a curriculum series for church leaders published by The John Lloyd Ogilvie Institute at my school, Fuller Theological Seminary, I detailed some of the educational challenges we are facing and some potential solutions Christians in particular can undertake in addressing those challenges. I am including some important excerpts from that work:

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According to studentsfirst.org, in the United States of America today, more than a quarter of students fail to graduate high school in four years. Furthermore, based on the results of college readiness exams, less than 25 percent of graduates are ready to attend a college or university.

Additionally, this is an education system that promotes inequality and therefore injustice: Schools in the United States are twice as likely to pair poor and minority students with brand-new teachers and almost four times more likely to suspend black students than white students.

The achievement gap between low-income and wealthy students has grown significantly, exacerbating socioeconomic and racial tensions and heightening the sense of inequality among various underserved communities, as large achievement gaps in educational outcomes based on race and ethnicity remain, or by some accounts, even worsen. “Fewer than one in five African-American fourth graders is proficient in reading and Latino eighth graders are less than half as likely to be proficient in math as their white peers.”

About a quarter (24 percent) of K-12 schools are private, and roughly 10 percent of U.S. students (5.3 million children P-12) are enrolled at a private school. Around 80 percent of these private school students attended a religiously affiliated private school. Private school students, on average, score better than public school students in reading, math and a host of other subject areas, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Private schools expanded in the United States partially in response to the secularization of public schools (including the removal of prayer and Bible reading as part of the curriculum), which helps explain the high percentage of Christian schools in comparison to their non-Christian counterparts.

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Private schools, charter schools, voucher programs and other school choice options have been championed by reform-minded conservatives such as Jeb Bush for years now, partly because of their success for countless children of color living in poor communities with even poorer-performing public schools.

Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, has long been a supporter of school choice and charter schools. Similarly, Leaders in the black community in particular have recognized the value of these options for their young people.

From The Federalist:

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For a long time, national organizations that claim to advocate on behalf of black Americans have actually not represented their views very well on key topics, and that rift became public again recently in controversies about charter schools.

Former Black Lives Matter St. Paul leader Rashad Turner recently quit his position over BLM national’s opposition to charter schools. Charters are public schools that boards of local citizens can apply to open and run under state oversight, and that any child can attend.

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Charter schools have been very popular in the black community and generally beneficial for black students:

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Turner also criticized the NAACP’s similar, long-held opposition to charters, which aligns with labor unions rather than black Americans. A plurality of African-Americans support charter schools, with 46 percent for and 29 percent against in a recent nationwide poll. In a 2015 poll conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options in Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey and Tennessee, majorities of black Americans supported charters, typically by approximately two-thirds.

Meanwhile, a group of 160 African-American community leaders sent NAACP a letter detailing their own objections to its charter-school opposition on behalf of “700,000 black families choosing to send their children to charter public schools, and the tens of thousands more who are still on waiting lists.” In October, the NAACP board will meet to consider a resolution that calls for banning more charters from opening, which prompted the group letter in opposition.

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The letter is clear about the positive resource that charter schools have been for black students:

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“For many urban Black families, charter schools are making it possible to do what affluent families have long been able to do: rescue their children from failing schools,” the letter says. “The NAACP should not support efforts to take that option away from low-income and working-class Black families. A blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit Black students’ access to some of the best schools in America and deny Black parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.”

The group letter to the NAACP cites a Stanford University study showing that black students who attended charter schools exhibited the equivalent of 14 days’ more learning in both reading and math per year compared to black peers in traditional public schools. Poor black students’ learning gains in charter schools were even more dramatic, at the equivalent of 29 more days’ learning in reading and 36 extra in math.

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If we want lower unemployment in communities of color, then we need more successful entrepreneurs of color. If we want more entrepreneurs, then we need better K-12 schools in poor or marginalized communities. Public school reform, private school access and charters schools are all part of the solution.

Again, from my research:

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One concrete way that Christians can respond to issues of justice and public education is by intentionally desegregating in their public and private lives. Segregation is still a reality for many school children in countries like the United States. If Christians refuse to run away from people of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, if they look for schools that offer the opportunity to reverse the voluntary segregation of the past 30 years, then schools will naturally and inevitably become more equal and society will become more just.

Christians cannot claim to be working for justice in our communities if we contribute to segregation and the racial or ethnic division of those communities. The church must lead the way in opposing segregation and inequality, and public education is related to these issues in important and diverse ways.

Pastors and other church leaders should be mindful of the public schools in their neighborhood, and reach out to the schools to see what the church can do to serve their students.

Suburban schools can “adopt” underserved urban or rural schools in their region both financially and relationally. The National Church Adopt-a-School Initiative, spearheaded by Dr. Tony Evans, is serious about this kind of activism from an evangelical perspective. There are many similar non-profit and para-church organizations working on issues of public education from places of public Christian faith, like the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR) program.

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For an in-depth discussion of “voluntary” public school segregation and attempts to overcome it or reinforce it, listen to the This American Life podcast episodes on school segregation — “The Problem We All Live With” in two parts.

This article originally appeared at arcdigital.media. Used with permission.

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