February 20, 2013

Rich-poor school spending divide hurts children, federal report finds

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — America is failing too many of its children in public schools because it doesn't spread the opportunity for a good education fairly to all, according to a report for the government released Tuesday.

"While some young Americans – most of them white and affluent – are getting a truly world-class education, those who attend schools in high poverty neighborhoods are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations," says the 52-page report by the Equity and Excellence Commission, created by Congress to look into the disparity in educational opportunity.

A group of leading education experts, the commission said the nation needed to achieve equity in education, both as a matter of fairness and to secure its economic future. It called for changes in the ways that schools are funded.

"It is only when our nation begins to address the needs of each and every child that we can ensure that America will continue to remain a global leader and innovator," said Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., who was a science teacher and principal for more than 30 years, and who sponsored legislation in 2008 that created the commission. "This is not a minority issue. This is not a poverty issue. This is an American issue."

He and other members of the commission unveiled the report in a conference call with reporters.

It found that schools in poor communities in many cases spend thousands of dollars less per student than those in more affluent areas do. As a result, poor schools can't compete for the best teachers and principals, buy the best technology and support rigorous academic and enrichment programs.

"Ten million students in America's poorest communities – and millions more African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native students who are not poor – are having their lives unjustly and irredeemably blighted by a system that consigns them to the lowest-performing teachers, the most run-down facilities, and academic expectations and opportunities considerably lower than what we expect of other students," according to the report.

Its recommendations include higher pay and better working conditions for teachers and principals, and universal high-quality early education. The commission said the U.S. could afford to pay teachers more, and it argued that raising starting pay to $65,000, instead of today's average of $37,000, and increasing top salaries to $150,000, instead of around $70,000, would help attract better teachers.

It estimated the cost of such a pay hike at about $30 billion a year, or about 5 percent of current spending on elementary and secondary education.


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