EDUCATION: POLITICS AND POLICY
Money seems to be falling through cracks long before it reaches students. In 1990, the District of Columbia, criticized for its low academic performance, spent $9,300 per student -- three times the tuition to the average private school. On average, America spends more money per child than other industrialized countries. For the primary through secondary level:
The "School Choice" movement and School Vouchers
Republicans have proposed doing away with the Department of Education
In some states, spending on education can vary from $2,112 to $19,333 per child. The existing system of school funding is a problem underlying most education issues
Bob Dole has singled out the teachers unions as the source of corruption in the system
In a letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Our founding fathers believed that education was the key to the informed citizenry necessary for true democracy.
As bells and buzzers across the country ring in the new school year, students are returning to classrooms that are filled beyond capacity -- extending into closets and spilling out into the halls. In some inner-city schools, chairs are not available for all, and desks double as storage areas. And academic performance is suffering. Average American students rank low in international comparisons of knowledge and ability. Between 1965 and 1994 combined verbal and mathematical Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have fallen from 958 to 902, and average scores on tests administered to young students are similarly discouraging. (The average score went up to 910 last year.)
While test scores declined, spending has increased. Total expenditure for education amounted to about 7.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1994-1995. Data adjusted for inflation shows that since 1960, spending per pupil has tripled, the student-teacher ratio has fallen more than a third, and teacher's salaries have risen by half.
- Sweden ($5,825 in 1994) had the highest level of per- student public expenditure among the countries for which data are available.
- Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York had the highest levels among the states (all above $6,400 in 1994).
- Japan, Australia, Spain, and Hungary all spent about the same or less than Mississippi, the lowest spending state ($2,648 in 1994).
- (Currently, the United States spends an average of $6,857 per student in the public school system.)
Educators are frustrated by over-crowding and poor test results. Politicians are frustrated by the partisan politics and endless philosophical debates that have kept educational policy in an apparent stand-still. Many conservatives, including Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, have proposed school vouchers as one answer to America's public school crisis. Dole believes that a voucher worth $1,000 or more would allow low-income parents to send their children to a private school of choice. President Clinton and most Democrats argue that school vouchers would suck much-needed money away from already troubled public schools. In recent months, Dole has also blamed the teachers unions for strangling the educational system for the sake of political power. He refers to the unions as "the very group who have run out public schools into the ground." President Clinton does not criticize the unions, and receives strong support from the large organizations such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Mr. Dole has also favored abolishing the Department of Education, transfering the student loan operation to another federal department. Last year's failed Republican deficit-elimination bill included $31 billion in education spending cuts over seven years. Clinton has stood by the Education Cabinet position, and has proposed spending more money on federal education programs. The President's Goals 2000, which was incorporated into this year's budget, assists states trying to establish education standards. Dole says Goals 2000 means more bureaucracy and more regulation.
Another approach is to limit the influx of immigrants into the schools. Immigration and the lack of space to build new schools have been cited as the causes of drastic over-crowding in New York City. In California, the governor's office estimates that on education alone the state is spending close to $2 billion this year to school 380,000 illegal immigrant children. In the controversial Proposition 187, California proposed to keep the children of illegal immigrants out of the public schools. Dole endorsed Proposition 187, and Clinton opposed it. House Republicans have also tried to attach to the recent Immigration Bill a provision denying illegal immigrats access to public schooling.
In the end, Democrat's and Republican's differences on the education issues hinge on disparate views of the role of the federal government. Clinton wants the federal government to oversee efforts to set standards, wire classrooms for the Internet and establish a corps of volunteers to help children with reading. Dole believes education is a local issue and that federal education money should be turned over to the states in block grants to adopt their own programs.