NEA Study Finds Stagnant Resources Jeopardize Public Schools
Investments in public schools are not keeping pace with the needs of our children, according to an education funding report released last month by the National Education Association (NEA).
Last fall, nearly 400,000 additional children entered the nation’s classrooms, representing the 19th consecutive rise in school enrollment. Yet, annual school revenues and spending are stagnant, as is the average salary necessary to attract an estimated 16,000 qualified teachers needed for this wave of students.
The report, “Rankings and Estimates: Rankings of the States 2003 and Estimates of School Statistics 2004,” shows slight increases from the previous year in the average expenditure per student enrolled in a K-12 school, the average revenue that communities collect for school expenses and the average salary of a public school teacher.
Analyzing data from state education departments, the report suggests that troubled times may lie ahead.
According to the report, state and local governments — in the midst of budget crises and struggles to comply with the demands of the No Child Left Behind law — still provide the lion’s share of education funding. On average, revenues from those state and local coffers have shown little growth over the past year or over the decade. The average teacher salary has not kept pace with inflation. Since 1993, salaries have actually declined in a third of the country.
NEA President Reg Weaver said the annual study begs an answer to two important questions: Can spending keep up with students’ needs, and are we focusing our limited resources in the best areas?
“Public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy,” he said. “We must make them places where students can — and will — succeed. Funding is fundamental to reform.”
Weaver added that financial sanctions, expensive bureaucracy and mandatory testing required by the federal law threaten to drain scarce state and local resources and hinder the ability of public schools to keep quality educators and maintain vital student services.
“Too often, educators are asked to fulfill an important mission, but they are not given the support and compensation to remain in the profession,” Weaver said. “It is unrealistic to expect student achievement to improve while cash-strapped states and local districts are forced to lay off public school employees or eliminate enriching classes and activities.”
The “Rankings and Estimates” report has presented statistics on school spending, revenues and staff salaries since the late 1960s. For the complete report, visit the NEA Web site at <www.nea.org>.
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