Between 1992 and 2005, U.S. government spending on K-12 education, adjusted for inflation, doubled. However, per-pupil spending in the nation’s public schools fell for each year between 2012-13. In Indiana, during that same period, real spending per pupil declined 8.5 percent.
In 2014, New York spent about $20,000 per pupil; the average for all states was $11,009. Indiana allocated $9,548 per pupil, a significant percentage of its median household income equaling $49,446.
There are good arguments for expanding pre-K government educational programs, but financial resources are limited. There is undoubtedly a ceiling on the total amount of median household income taxpayers are willing to allocate for educational services. If so, entitlement to more years of public education ultimately will result in reduced resources per pupil for kindergarten through Grade 12. Hoosiers increasingly have to acknowledge this limitation and vote on the type and duration of tax-funded schooling and child care they are willing to provide.
Depending on the priority placed on meeting international educational challenges, K-12 education in the future may be more narrowly defined with reduced expenditures on transportation, food and other social services. If so, families with young children, already stressed out, will be required to absorb more of the costs and inconvenience of childcare. To what extent would extended-family, civic, religious, fraternal and commercial organizations step up to provide cost-effective custodial and co-curricular child services? If we witness such a change, parents and taxpayers could insist that schools focus on whatever it takes to shepherd 90 percent or more students through a curriculum resulting in healthy adults who are personally, socially and economically capable.
Finland and South Korea take the lead in primary and secondary educational rankings, followed by three other high-performing Asian nations: Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. Denmark is ranked 12th ahead of countries such as Germany, France and the United States.
What can be learned from the experience of higher-ranked countries, while retaining what is good, unique and meaningful in U.S. education and culture? The answer might simply require a slightly different allocation of present resources.
In high-performing educational systems, spending is important, but not as significant as placing a high value on learning, teacher status and a “culture” of education. Second only to students being willing and able to learn is teacher quality. Teachers in high-performing countries are drawn from those who performed at least in the top third of their respective secondary schools.
Furthermore, a higher percentage of the money spent on education in these countries is allocated to the salaries of classroom teachers. Teachers are expected to follow a standard curriculum, but nevertheless are treated as professionals with discretion in how they deliver material. Work schedules are designed to permit teachers to benefit from colleagues’ suggestions and administrative support. Inadequate teachers are counseled out or removed from the classroom.
Although children and their parents are immediate beneficiaries, K-12 education is a social good from which everyone ultimately benefits. However, nearly 57 percent of U.S. household are childless and therefore less inclined than previously to advocate politically for increasing government revenue directed to those under 18 years of age.
What changes will that mean for public policy?
Age composition in the U.S. has changed, and 44 percent of all households have a dog. It is no coincidence, therefore, that parcels of land, some publicly owned, are being enclosed for dog parks.
Maryann O. Keating, a resident of South Bend and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is co-author of “Microeconomics for Public Managers,” Wiley/Blackwell. Send comments to email@example.com.