In Donald Trump’s inaugural address he stated that our education system is “flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Even if you feel there are problems with our current education system, both parts of that statement over exaggerations and potentially dangerous. Our school system is not depriving students of all knowledge. I could write a long post on all the great things that happen in our schools everyday (you can check out Stoneridge’s twitter @rcsdstoneridge to get a glimpse into what our school does on a daily basis), but for right now I want to tackle the school system being flush with cash.
First let’s talk about how money is spent at a district level. The way it works at most school districts is the district pays salaries, benefits, pays for building, professional development, programs like music, technology infrastructure, and big items. Then there is money given to the school site to spend. Every district will be different on how much they give their individual school sites to spend. I can’t speak for other educators realities when it comes to money but I will give you my reality as an elementary school principal.
At my school we have 574 students. I have 25 total teachers and 20 classified staff members. We have no assistant principal, no counselor, a nurse one day a week, and a school psychologist one day a week. My total school budget is right around $38,000 for the entire year. That is $38,000 to pay for things such as: paper, new books for students, supplemental curriculum, additional help for English Learner, Foster Youth, Student with Disabilities, sub costs if I want teachers to have time to plan or go to a training, training, replace projector bulbs, additional help like a crossing guard to keep kids safe at the crosswalk, bench for students to eat snacks, reading intervention program, and any additional technology. Does $38,000 sound like a lot of money to help take care of 574 students, a staff of 45 people, and a school campus that is around 80,000 square feet?
Our school is very lucky due to the fact we have a parent community that supports our students and school with generous donations. We are able to offer many extra programs thanks to our supportive families. Unfortunately most schools do not have that extra support. Should a school have to rely on fundraising and extra support from parents? And what if parents don’t have the resources to help the school?
I know people will say, well if you don’t get a lot of money as a site principal that must mean the money is being wasted elsewhere. I would strongly disagree with that statement. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about education budgets at the site, district, county, or state level; all of those budgets are tight. And these are good economic times in education as compared to five or six years ago. Some might say that money is going to teacher salaries since it isn’t going to the school sites. In a comparison of educator salaries in the United States as compared to other countries here is what the Brookings Institute says:
“While American salaries aren’t the lowest, many other countries not only pay better, but the gap is really, really big. The simple summary: Other countries make teaching a more financially attractive career for college graduates than we do.”
Other professions in our country usually make much more than their international counterparts. For example doctors in the US make around double the average salary when compared to doctors from other countries. And our healthcare ranking as a country (37th overall in 2015 according to World Health Organization) is actually lower than our education ranking (25th on the PISA) as a country. This isn’t an attack on our doctors, but my point is many professions in the US make much more money than their international counterparts. Teachers do not make more when compared internationally, and yet I see teachers attacked all the time for how much money they make.
The main thing that is usually cited when saying the United States school system has a lot of money is that we spend as much, if not more per student than any other country.
The fact is that America educates more poor students and students with disabilities than any other country. It costs more to educate these students. This is not mean, it is reality. And it is federal law, and rightfully so, that we must provide students with disabilities with a free and appropriate education. (By the way this is good information to know if you are ever in a Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education). Out of 35 economically advantaged countries we rank 34th in child poverty. We have a huge child poverty problem in this country.
|Image Credit: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc10_eng.pdf|
So it makes sense that we spend more per student as compared to other countries because we have students that need more help. It does not mean the education system is flush with cash.
Every year I discuss with my staff how we want to spend money as a school site. We talk about making sure students have books and technology. We talk about how we need to make sure we put money aside for basic things like paper and recess equipment. There are reasonable wants like maybe a day to plan or additional teacher training. In the end we always have to play a game called “Would You Rather”. As a staff we discuss what we would like to spend money on and say would you rather. Would you rather have that reading intervention program or six extra laptops? Would you rather go to that training or get extra books for the reading room? Would you rather have that author visit or new rugs in your classroom? The would you rather game is not a game you play when you are flush with cash. There are many issues we need to work on in education. How to spend a bunch of extra cash is not one of them.