Private Funding at New York City Public Schools

Parents at some public schools in the US have recently come under criticism for their outsized private funding of public school activities. From hiring additional teaching staff to funding art programs and field trips, the money raised from parents at public schools allegedly exacerbates unequal access to  opportunities in the school system. As Richard Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies at The Brookings Institution, points out in his book Dream Hoarders – How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It this kind of money comes on top of a strong correlation between family income and quality of the school district.

Looking at data from a April 2017 report by the Center for American Progress, we mapped the 19 schools in New York City that made the report’s list of the nation’s 50 richest Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs). Click on the map below to explore the total sum raised by a school’s PTA, the revenue per student, and the number of students at the school. Data are for fiscal year 2013/14.

Out of the 19 top-revenue public schools in the City of New York, seven are in Brooklyn, one is in Queens, and eleven are located in Manhattan. Unsurprisingly, their locations largely overlap with the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York; an observation in line with Reeves’ finding about the dual advantage of public schools in wealthy neighborhoods.

What to do about these findings? Among other measures, the Center for American Progress report proposes to put limits on how private funds at public schools can be spent, for example by precluding the hiring of additional teaching staff. Reeves suggests sharing the money affluent schools raise with schools from districts that are less well off. Measures like these could go some way in reigning in some of the inequality-aggravating effects in private funding for public schools.

However, there is an important caveat here: If relatively wealthy parents cannot spend their contributions in a way they deem best for their children in the public system, they might decide to go private altogether. This would diminish the funds at the disposal of public schools to further the advancement of all children, rich and poor.

Maybe what is needed is a cultural change that makes parents learn to appreciate the value of diversity, community and sharing, rather than focusing on the seemingly “hard” criteria of standardized test scores. In such an environment, pooling of resources across schools could become a less contested affair.


Disclosure: Christian’s daughter attends one of the schools in the top-19 list. Christian and his wife regularly contribute to the PTA fund at their daughter’s school.

The “United States of Europe”? Politically, Schulz May Be On to Something

On Thursday, the German Social Democrat’s (SPD) party congress green-lighted talks with Chancellor Merkel’s center-right CDU that could lead to another grand coalition between the two parties (and the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, CSU). The Social Democrats had long resisted such a move, insisting that they needed to seek “renewal” in opposition.

However, after the breakdown of talks to form a “Jamaica” coalition consisting of CDU/CSU, the Greens and the pro-market FDP, the pressure on the SPD was mounting. Actors from the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to a majority of the German public, to a majority of SPD supporters, called on the SPD to reconsider.

The party’s price for entering a grand coalition could be a “radically different vision of Europe” as the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Mr Schulz called for a new Constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe by 2025. Countries that don’t ratify this constitution would have to leave the EU automatically.

As a seasoned veteran of all things EU, Mr Schulz is probably aware that his proposal won’t fly in Europe. However, as far as German domestic politics is concerned, he may be on to something. Public sentiment in Germany is strongly pro-EU and a majority of Germans support more integration in the EU. These are the results from the most recent data from the European Social Survey.

There is considerable support for an increase in EU integration, as figure 1 shows. More than 53 percent of respondents in Germany supported an increase in integration while another 15.7 percent (the mode) are in the middle between strong support for either of the two extremes (“European unification has already gone too far” and “European unification should be further”).

Figure 1: Support for EU integration, ESS data
This political sentiment is also reflected by the emotional attachment Germans feel towards the EU. Figure two shows that almost 62 percent of respondents in Germany score higher than the value of five; the value at the center of the distribution which can be taken to signify emotional indifference towards the EU.

Figure 2: Emotional attachment to the EU, ESS data

Both values are considerably higher in Germany than they are in the rest of the EU countries in the ESS sample. Support for further increases in EU integration in those countries is at around 35 percent, while positive emotional attachment is felt by 54 percent of respondents.

What does that mean for Martin Schulz and the Social Democrats? If Mr Schulz is able to sell the SPD’s entry into yet another grand coalition as a feat that furthers the process of European unification, this should go down well with many Germans. Support for the EU is strong and strengthening integration is viewed favorably by a majority of Germans. This could help Mr Schulz in overcoming resistance from within the SPD. Furthermore, EU integration is in the DNA of the SPD’s prospective coalition partner, with famed first chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) being widely viewed as the father of “western integration” (“Westbindung”). Whether these positive views of the EU translate into German willingness to support more redistribution within Europe, as French President Macron’s plan seem to suggest, is, of course, another matter.

How Come Germany is the Most Left-Leaning Country in Europe?

Casual observers might surmise that Scandinavian countries have the most left-leaning publics in Europe. Not so. Drawing on data from the most recent wave of the European Social Survey (ESS), we find that, maybe surprisingly, Germany is the country where respondents, on average, self-identify the strongest as “left”.

The ESS contains a question that tries to gauge ideological self-placement of respondents. To this end, the questionnaire contains an item where respondents are asked for their placement on a left right scale. Specifically, the question asked is: “In politics people sometimes talk of left and right. Where would you place yourself on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means the left and 10 means the right?” For the 16 countries considered here (see map and list below), the mean value for 2016 is 5.14. This is almost exactly in the middle of where you would expect the average citizen to fall if political preferences were normally or uniformly distributed.  

The 16 countries are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Out of these, Germany has the most left-leaning average value (4.44), while Poland is the most right-leaning country with an average left-right self-placement value of 5.86.

Average values can tell us only so much. How about the distribution? The standard deviation between left-right self-placement in the 16 countries varies between 1.96 in Estonia and 3.68 in the Czech Republic. Political polarization in Germany, Poland and the Nordic countries is much lower, while France, Ireland and the UK are somewhere in the middle.

We can also look at attitudes towards redistribution. The ESS contains an item that  states “The government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels.” Respondents are asked whether they strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree or strongly disagree. This yields a 1 to 5 scale with lower values indicating more support for redistribution. It turns out that the Sweden and Norway are less in favor of redistribution than, for example, Germany, Poland or France. Slovenia is the most pro-redistribution country in the sample with the Czech Republic coming out as the least redistribution-friendly country. It should be noted, however, that even there, the average value is 2.85 which means that, on average, even in the country that is most skeptical about redistribution, a majority supports the statement that the government should reduce income differences. Note that on the map below darker colors stand for less support for redistribution.

How does this compare to actual inequality? We can look at the Gini coefficient as a measure for income inequality. The Gini has a theoretical range from 0 (perfect equality) to 100 (perfect inequality). Data for this variable comes from the Standardized World Income Inequality Database  (SWIID). We use income inequality post transfers and taxes, i.e. after the government has taken measures to change market outcomes. According to this measure, Norway is the most equitable country in the sample with a Gini of 22.92 , while the country with the most unequal income distribution is Estonia (Gini = 34.28).

Interestingly, none of these values are highly correlated. Leftist self-identification does not significantly translate into more support for redistribution. Higher support for redistribution is not strongly correlated with income inequality, neither positively or negatively. This means that respondents figure in more than just economic issues when answering the question of left-right self placement. It also means that actual levels of (post tax, post transfer) inequality do not reflect average preferences over redistribution.

On the map, you can visualize the data. Click on the countries or on the circles that show inequality for each country to see more information.

Oh, and as for the question in the title? Barring further analysis, our best guess is that the result for Germany is driven by social desirability bias that is particularly strong in Germany.