Not only do wealthier students tend to attend better-funded schools, but they often also benefit from family background characteristics. The monetary advantages of unequal school funding are frequently coupled with the advantage of having a safe, supportive, and intellectually enriching home environment that comes with wealth. So it is not surprising that children who attend better-funded public schools tend to be more successful than those who attend more poorly funded public schools.
In fact, family background may be even more important than school funding. Evidence suggests that the lifetime educational possibilities of most kids are set by the time they are six years old. This is due to the fact that several family background characteristics are very strong predictors of future educational attainment, including parental support, parental expectations for schooling, household income, and parental educational attainment, with the last two being the most important factors. Researchers can actually predict a child's lifetime educational attainment by using background characteristics observed when the child is in the first grade, and these predictions turn out to be just as good, or even better, at predicting educational attainment as similar predictions based on observations made when the student is in high school.
Educational deficits resulting from inequality also affect future life trajectories. Colleges tend to draw students from a relatively advantaged background because of their high costs and stiff academic requirements for enrollment. What's more, because colleges want to maintain their rankings in various college ranking systems (e.g., U.S. News & World Report), colleges favor students with higher standardized test scores and aggressively recruit them using "merit" scholarships. In 2000, affluent students, students who could otherwise afford to pay for college, received "merit" scholarships worth 82% of the need-based aid received by students with the lowest family incomes.