Fixing public educationWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many out there in public service that feel they know what the problem with public education is these days and how to fix it. There may be some of you who agree with them. If you did, my guess is that you feel that the biggest problem with public education has to do with the funding system, currently under a court ordered change, not being able to spend enough on schools to allow our students to excel. Boy would you be wrong!
In fact, Ohio has spent more per student on education than the national average going back as far as 1997. Although the difference then was only about $15, that difference now sits at almost $460 per pupil. As of 2007 in fact, Ohio spends $9,598 per pupil on K-12 education. During the last ten years in fact, the operating costs per pupil have gone up in the State of Ohio by approximately 63%. (Data from Ohio Facts 2008)
Now when I was in school, classroom size was around 35. I recognize that in these more enlightened times however; we have been trying to reduce classroom size in order to improve education. Based on the numbers spent today therefore, my classroom would have produced $335,930 for the school I was in. Reduce it to 30 and we still get to $287,940; reduce it further still to 25 and we are still talking about $239,950. Any way you slice it; there is a fair bit of money being spent in every classroom in the state. And as for the relation between class size and education quality, there are a number of recent articles published by the Buckeye Institute stating in very clear terms that such class size reduction does not appear to help the quality of the education delivered.
While admitting that there is adequate funding for classrooms, many point to higher pay for teachers as a way to improve education in Ohio. In fact however, Ohio teacher’s salaries also exceed the national average, and have done so since 2000. In the last ten years, teachers’ salaries have gone up 31.2%, with the average teacher in Ohio making $51,937. This again is a pretty good chunk of money, especially for a job where you work only nine months out of the year. (Factored out from 9 to 12 months, this package becomes $69,250 per year.)
The next question of course, would be how this compares to private education, which most in the education field agree is able to produce a student with higher test scores, one with higher reading and writing skills, and one far more likely to graduate and go on to higher education. You might be surprised to learn that private education tuition, charged to cover all of the costs involved (and potentially produce a small profit) sits at approximately 40-60% of the money supplied to the state for such purposes. Of course teachers in such schools may not make as much as public school counterparts, these schools may have to do with far fewer administrators and clerical staff, and class sizes may still be up at the levels that they were in my day; but none of this seem to keep them from producing a superior product and service.
Factor into the equation now as well that in most cases, for each student put in private education, the local school still receives its full $9598 without having to provide a commensurate service to anyone for the money and the problem becomes even more confusing. Only limited voucher programs exist across the country, allowing parents to take some portion of the money for their child to the school to which they send them. Even when they exist, all of the money is not moved with the student, with the local school district still normally retaining 30-40% of such funding.
So how do the private schools do it? Simple, they do it because they have to. They do it because they compete with both the public schools and other private schools to attract children in their chosen area. If they fail to perform the services for which they compete, they do not get the students; and if such failure continues they ultimately fail and disappear. Public schools however, do not have to compete. They have a mandated monopoly; sanctioned, funded, and brutally enforced by a government that many believe serve something other than the children in their charge.
So what should we try to take from all of this, probably something that we already knew. Governments do not do well in providing services of any kind in a marketplace of competitive capitalism. By every measurement that we can find, from test scores to tuition levels, privately funded education provides a better product and a better value. The sooner that our government realizes this and gets out of the business of education, the better off that our children will be.