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Report: Unequal Education Spending Threatens US Global Competitiveness

Friday, 21 Jun 2013 07:53 AM

By John Morgan

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The U.S. education system is slipping behind other nations, and the widening achievement gap between rich and poor students is threatening the country's global competitiveness, according to a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report, titled "Renewing America Progress Report and Scorecard," lays blame at the fact school spending is distributed unequally in the United States.

While the U.S. funds its schools from property taxes on the local community — which often means more money goes to schools in high-income areas where homes are worth the most — most other developed nations divide school funding centrally by enrollment, i.e. the money is allocated evenly on a per-head basis.

Editor's Note: I Wish I Were Wrong — Economist Laments Being Right. See Interview.

"The real scourge of the U.S. education system — and its greatest competitive weakness — is the deep and growing achievement gap between socioeconomic groups that begins early and lasts through a student's academic career," said Rebecca Strauss, one of the report's authors.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States has slipped 10 spots in both high-school and college education rates during the past three decades compared with other nations.

That slippage has come despite the fact that the United States is fourth in the world on per-student primary and secondary education spending, and spends far more than any nation on college education.

The Fiscal Times reported the United States is the only developed country in which the generation entering today's labor market is less educated than the one leaving it.

"Smarter workers are more productive and innovative," Strauss wrote. "It is an economist's rule that an increase of one year in a country's average schooling level corresponds to an increase of 3 to 4 percent in long-term economic growth. Most of the value added in the modern global economy is now knowledge based."

Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, told the Times he agrees with the report's conclusion that the United States should spend more on community colleges, which serve a higher proportion of lower-income students, and on early childhood education.

About 75 percent of U.S. 4 year olds currently attend pre-K programs, with half of them in free or subsidized programs.

"Students learn when they have opportunities to learn," Welner said. "When we cut back on those opportunities or we inequitably distribute them, achievement shortfalls and achievement gaps are the logical outcome."

According to the report, low-income students are more concentrated at colleges and universities where per-pupil spending and graduation levels lag behind other schools.
In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those in the 30-34 age bracket who had only a high school diploma earned $638 per week, and their peers with bachelor's degrees earned $1,053.

Editor's Note: I Wish I Were Wrong — Economist Laments Being Right. See Interview.

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