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Schools spending more, accomplishing less

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Students are back to school this week. Increasingly, educational costs are becoming an increasingly troubling burden to both government and parents. The problem affects elementary and high schools, as well as colleges.

The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. Despite all that spending, the results are disappointing. Recently, an Atlantic Magazine study noted that despite that, American students ranked 26th out of the 34 ranked countries in math.

The argument made by many that increased spending leads to better results has been repeatedly discredited.

A 2011 Fox News study noted that “A 2009 comparison between public and Catholic school SAT scores show that public school students had an overall average of 496 points on the critical reading portion of the test while Catholic school students scored 533 points on the same portion. Catholic school students outscored their public school counterparts by an average of 23 points…what makes the numbers more impressive is that Catholic high schools spend more than $2,000 less per student than public schools.”

There are a number of reasons for these increased costs accompanied by poor results. Demands for increased salaries and larger staffs is one factor. In fact, the growth in education staffing has outpaced student enrollment. But it would be incorrect to assume that those increased dollars are going solely to teachers. A heritage/Fordham study reported by the Daily Signal found that non-teaching staff comprise 50% of all staff in school districts, and, indeed, teachers comprise only half of all education jobs.

The spending spree extends to colleges, as well. According to the Huffington Post, “The inflation-adjusted price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42 percent between the 2000-2001 academic year and 2010-2011, according to federal data. When comparing the inflation-adjusted price for 2010-2011 to the cost in 1980-1981, the cost has almost doubled. … The recession only further fueled the rising costs — with prices in some cases jumping by as much as 40 percent in a year.” Similar to grammar and high schools, some of that increase in spending results from the growth in non-teaching staff. Those non teachers aren’t practical positions such as janitors or maintenance men. They include lavishly paid bureaucrats whose salaries can range into the quarter-million dollar range.

A 2012 Bloomberg news study found that In the past decade, the number of administrative employees jumped 54 percent, almost eight times the growth of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

A Forbes study also lays blame on lenders, particularly the U.S. Department of Education, who have made significant profits on loans provided to students seeking to pay high tuition rates. Since these loans have none of the traditional consumer protections and can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, there have many defaults for which the Education Department recovers $1.22 for every dollar paid out in default claims. According to the Forbes study, “This is a critical, unambiguous link that is never pointed out, but which is key…to explaining the rampant inflation we have seen in academia over the years. Congress and the President should be demanding to know why key personnel at the Department so badly neglected to fulfill their duties, and take a hard, hard look at the corporate culture that has enabled this sort of gross neglect of basic functions…”

A new expense factor has been added to this already difficult problem. The costs of educating the numerous illegal alien youngsters who recently crossed America’s southern border has been estimated to top $700 million, straining the taxpayers even further. That figure may well be an underestimate. These youth will have special needs relating to language skills, psychological and physical health problems, and, for the older members of the group, gang-related challenges as well.

Frank Vernuccio is editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government at usagovpolicy.com & the author/voice of the syndicated radio feature Minute Report for America.

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