Posted on January 29, 2016

Education in the U.S.: Part 3


“Education in the U.S.: Part 3” is the third article in our four-part series emphasizing the funding of schools. Student Life editor Jake Norman and photographer Elena Rodriguez teamed up to cover controversial issues that run rampant in our education system, yet are widely overlooked.

When discussing the issue of education, many people are quick to point out the funding for schools, or lack thereof. A popular theory explaining why education is so poor in the United States is because we aren’t funding schools enough. Case in point:

In 2015, the United States federal budget called for 3% of a $3.8 trillion budget to be designated to education. Now you may think we need to increase this percentage, especially considering that 16% of the budget went to military, but the reality of the issue is that 90% of education funding actually comes from the individual states.

Our education system is not controlled at the federal level. True, the federal government can step in and mandate certain changes to take place, but for the most part, our education is funded and controlled by the individual states. This means that individual schools themselves are mostly funded by the cities they belong to. Our local schools are funded predominantly by the taxes we pay to the city (property tax, to be more specific). However, this creates a discrepancy in the funding because higher-end neighborhoods will almost always have more money to spend on education.

According to School Funding Fairness and their national report card for 2015, state funding systems are broken into progressive, regressive and flat systems. Progressive shows money is given to higher poverty areas than wealthier neighborhoods, regressive systems pour more money into affluent areas and less to the impoverished, and flat systems spread out funding equally among schools. Naturally, progressive funding is the best approach to rid of inequality. However, 24 states were seen as regressive, including Texas; 22 states are considered progressive.

The main issue with funding and education is the inequality that exists between upper class suburban neighborhoods and the lower class areas, typically the inner cities. The upper class will have more money due to higher property taxes, which leads to better resources, and even better teachers. The top teachers will typically expect to get paid more, which makes it hard for lower income areas to obtain top teachers, because they cannot afford them. This is typically the area that the federal government will step in to try to balance it out. The only problem is, it isn’t improving anything as far as education is concerned.

“The federal bucks go to the inner cities,” says Randy Teel, a foreign language teacher based in Keller, Texas. “They get new buildings and things like that, but it’s not helping education.”

The issue of funding is not just rooted in the inner cities. As a nation, we have increased our funding for education by over 200 percent, calculated for inflation, since 1970, but our test scores have remained practically stagnant.

“If we’ve thrown a lot of money at [education] over the last 30-40 years, it’s not working,” says Teel.

On a worldwide scale, there does not appear to be much of a correlation between more money and better test scores either. According to an OECD study using data from 2012, the United States spent the third most amount in education per student that year. Yet, according to OECD, the US ranked 19th in education quality. The countries that spent more than the U.S. were Luxembourg and Norway, but they didn’t rank high in quality either. Luxembourg  listed at 30th out of 36 countries, and Norway fell just slightly above than the United States at 17th.

Despite the discrepancies in funding between higher income and low-level income areas, test levels remain stagnant across the board. This shows that even though money is supposedly spent improving schools, it’s not improving the education. The bottom line the way funding is used needs reevaluated. Essentially, we are spending the money on outside resources, such as buildings and updated classroom technology, while the curriculum is never touched.

“It all boils down to what the students have to prepare with,” says Penny Greer, a former school teacher. “We are creating these new tests, such as the STAAR test, but these students are going in blindly, not knowing the information, not knowing what to study. We need to give kids more resources, but the books that have the information aren’t available.”

Every country that ranked ahead of the United States in education spent less than the we did, showing it’s important to evaluate how the money should be spent rather than continuously investing the money in unneeded areas.

If we want to change our education system, funding does not need to increase necessarily, it needs to be used more efficiently. We are investing so much in outside things like new buildings, new computers, televisions, etc. Of course this new technology helps, but not directly like a new textbook that will have updated information needed for test-taking. We need a new overhaul on not only how we teach curriculum, but the curriculum itself. We need to give teachers regular raises like any other job has. We need to spend the money smartly, and fairly across the board to help children in need. Because at the end of the day, the schools are shinier, but the students are still struggling.

Photo by: Elena Rodriguez

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