Socioeconomic demographics are important in maintaining effective public education. First and foremost, education leaders must know the resources possessed by their respective communities. Are most families wealthy? Poor? Is there a wide disparity between the wealthiest students and poorest students? Geographically, are wealth and poverty spread equitably or are they concentrated in small areas? The answers to these questions can help administrators more wisely use their resources to ensure fair, effective education of youth.
The issue of parental resources is key. If administrators ignore socioeconomic trends in the community they may improperly allocate funds for school supplies. A wealthy public school district, for instance, may not need to devote much money toward classroom supplies since almost all parents can easily afford to supply their students with such fare. A poor district, by comparison, does need to ensure that classroom supplies are included in school budgets. Buying paper, pencils, and binders for wealthy kids is a waste of a wealthy school district’s money, but not buying such supplies for impoverished students places an excessive burden on cash-strapped parents.
In large school districts with many schools, administrators do well to monitor the socioeconomic demographics of each school’s students and allocate funds accordingly, rather than by simple division. Schools serving wealthier populations can save money for schools that need it more by investing less money in large cafeterias, school vehicles for student transportation, or on reduced-meal programs. Public schools with predominantly wealthy students, especially high schools with open campuses, have fewer individuals who will eat in the cafeteria, require school-provided rides to extracurricular events, or need reduced-cost meals. Letting wealthy students eat off-campus for lunch and drive themselves to sports practices can save the school money and allow the district to redistribute that money to less-wealthy campuses.
Wide disparities between rich and poor students should also be monitored and may cause administrators to consider policies that attempt to minimize visual distinctions between rich and poor to minimize student stress and social tension. For example, a campus that has a sizable number of wealthy students and a sizable number of poor students, with relatively few middle-class students, may quickly see the rise of intense social class tensions. To minimize such tensions school districts or campuses may consider strict uniform policies, allowing all students to look similar by preventing the display of designer labels and expensive fashions, or policies that prevent students from bringing their cars, laptops, or other exclusive, non-necessary belongings to campus. Preventing students from engaging in conspicuous consumption or consumerism on campus may ease social class tensions and help all students feel less social stress, allowing more energy to be devoted to academics.
The geographic distribution of wealth and poverty could affect district decisions on policies like busing and transfers of students. Many districts, in order to prevent the rise of “rich” and “poor” campuses, may decide to send students to various schools in order to maintain a socioeconomic balance. Though this is a controversial practice, many supporters champion the idea of minimizing social class barriers by consciously exposing all students to other socioeconomic classes. By ensuring that all campuses have a thorough mix of poor, middle-class, and wealthy students a greater understanding and camaraderie develops among students. Students, by developing friendships across social classes, learn how to sympathize, empathize, and communicate with people from different backgrounds.
Socioeconomic demographics and geography is also typically used by school districts when determining where to put new campuses or when and where to close old campuses. Some schools intentionally put campuses, particularly secondary campuses, in lower-income areas to help provide those areas with an economic boost. An open-campus high school, for example, could bring thousands of dollars per week to restaurants, convenience stores, and shops in a neighborhood. People living in the neighborhood would have another potential employer; and a lucrative one since most public school jobs are salaried and offer comprehensive benefits. Indeed, a public school campus, supported by district tax dollars, can be amazingly beneficial to a lower-income area by bringing in steady jobs, money, and even consumer dollars from wealthier students.