Why We Never Seem To Get Anywhere On Education

With the howls from the Betsy DeVos confirmation still ringing, it’s worth wondering why education seems to be such a powerful, but intractable issue. Last year’s Opportunity School District was a well-intentioned reform aimed at fixing chronically failing schools that was defeated soundly after the educracy characterized it as a “state takeover.” School choice advocates have to avoid using the word “vouchers,” lest they be accused of “stealing” public money from teachers and students. We hear over and over again that Georgia’s public school systems are “chronically underfunded” even though education spending is roughly half of the state budget. When it comes to discussing education as public policy, we can’t even seem to agree on facts, let alone methodologies.

Kyle Wingfield’s column in the AJC takes note of a recent study by Ben Scafidi, a professor in economics at Kennesaw State who’s also a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The study claims that Georgia is under-reporting the amount we spend per-pupil on public education, and that when adjusted for inflation, taxes spent on education

“…grew by 56 percent between 1988 and 2014 (the earliest and latest years for which he could find comparable data). And that’s largely after a sharp uptick in the 1980s, when the Quality Basic Education Act was passed.

Essentially we spend $11,031 per student -which is $2,011 more than the $9,020 we say we spend. The extra money has not gone to teacher salaries, however. “Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia teacher in 2014 made $26 less per year than in 1988.

We can argue over the study (read the whole thing for yourself at this link) but can we agree on one thing? If it’s true that Georgia teachers are earning less today than they were when Ronald Reagan was President, can we all say that is a damnable shame for which we must hang our collective heads? 

Because we should, and agreeing on that is a prerequisite to any kind of meaningful discussion. You might think schools are underfunded, and I might think that privatizing every school in the country is a great idea. But before we start debating how much more money we should spend on education, let’s agree that any increase will go directly to the pockets of classroom-based, student-facing personnel. Not administrators or superintendents, or anybody higher up than principal. No money for capital improvements or whatever whack-a-doodle fad program is hot this year. Increase teacher’s salaries.

Conceived in the era of buggy-whips, our public education system is deeply and historically flawed. It’s suffering from mission creep in being asked to address poverty and other social issues. Reform is difficult and slow, but while we seek a solution to what’s wrong with public education, we ought to pay teachers at a level commensurate with what we demand of them.



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