How Funding the Vote, Schools & Police Could Change America

One of the most amazing things about Donald Trump as a presidential candidate is his ability to say something interesting or at least hint at something interesting when he appears to be saying absolutely nothing.

The latest example of this came last week, when Trump told African-Americans they really have nothing to lose by voting for him.

Now obviously what Trump said was in large part just a rehash of stereotypes that clueless white people have about black people -- they’re all poor, they live desperate lives, etcetera etcetera.

And obviously, black people do have a lot to lose by voting Republican.

But still, even in the midst of all that garbled logic and racial stereotyping, Trump was getting at something important: the seemingly permanent problem of poverty in the United States of America, especially in communities of color.

Which of course, raises the question why DO so many of our poor communities remain poor whether they’re black in West Baltimore or white in Appalachia?

Why are we STILL seeing poor people stay poor, generation after generation?

The answer is actually simpler than you might think: it’s all about the money, stupid.

It’s all about the money and who controls it.

For decades, centuries even, conservatives have been pushing this idea of state’s rights and local control.

Big government far away in Washington just messes things up, they say, so it makes more sense to let the people who actually live in communities make decisions about things that actually affect those communities.

But here’s the thing: when conservatives say “local control,” they really mean “local funding,” and that’s the problem.

You see, there are three primary things that make a community successful and give its citizens the opportunity to improve their lives.

The first is good schools, the second is safety (good police), and the third is the ability to make effective political and policy changes when changes need to happen (access to voting).

If you live in a rich community, you never even have to think about these things.

They’re there at your beck and call, and they always work fine. The schools are great, the police are friendly, and voting takes 15 minutes or even less.

But things are different when you’re poor.

The schools are bad, the cops are downright hostile (especially if you’re a person of color), and voting is difficult, if not impossible.

And why is that?

Easy: local control, which is really just code for local funding.

Why are schools in poor neighborhoods not as good as those in rich neighborhoods?

Easy: most schools are largely funded by property taxes, and thus poor neighborhood schools are starved for cash while rich towns are swimming in it.

Why is policing in poor neighborhoods so crappy?

Easy: Police departments are also largely funded locally, which puts poor neighborhoods at a disadvantage again because they can’t afford to hire the high quality police officers who work in rich neighborhoods. Local funding in low-income areas also adds an incentive for local police departments to treat their citizens as if they were an ATM machine - something we saw in a big way in Ferguson, Missouri.

Finally, why is it so hard and time-consuming to vote when you’re poor?

Easy: Voting services are largely paid for at the county level and poorer counties can’t afford as many polling places and poll workers as rich counties can.

Working together, these three things -- bad schools, bad police, and bad democracy -- create a large part of the vicious cycle that undermines any possibility for poor communities to emerge from poverty.

This is, by the way, no accident.

Conservatives know that rich white people don’t want to pay a dime to help poor people of color, and so they promote this idea of local control to give cover to what they really want to do: preserve the system of local funding that’s the source of all our problems.

So that’s the problem -- what’s the solution?

Well, one solution is to declare voting, schools, and police as "critical infrastructure" and then pass legislation to the change the rules of the game so that every school, police department and polling location in poor communities has the same level of funding as its rich community equivalent across the state.

This can be done at the level of either federal or state government -- either works.

It’s really that simple to get a good start on this.

It’s time to do away with all this “local control” BS and build a society that protects its most important critical infrastructures.

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