Education overhaul overdue

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George Hasara – Columnist Education, ironically, lags behind in the innovation department. In the business and technology sectors, we have amazing developments from Uber to Amazon. Better and more efficient mousetraps are continually being built. K-12 government schools, however, have had the luxury of a guaranteed supply of taxpayer money and being “efficient” is unlikely to be part of a school district’s mission statement, because it doesn’t have to be. Recently I did some quick math on the latest public education info as provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, a department of the U.S. Department of Education. I’m no accountant, but the data raises questions as to the effectiveness of education spending. The bloated $68 billion annual budget for the U.S. Department of Education is a prominent example for starters. The NCES reports that there are currently 16.1 students per each full-time teacher with an average of $12,300 (local, state and federal) spent on each child. Those two numbers multiplied, represent the total annual cost for a classroom of students as $198,000. The national average salary for a public school teacher is listed at $58,000, which means there’s a $140,000 differential. Even if you add a third to the teacher salary to reflect a benefit package, there is still less than 40% of the allocated money going toward paying for actual classroom instruction. Overhead, of course, exists in every field and varies according to what the service or product is. However, in teaching, the “product” is “knowledge” and the teacher is the best instrument for transferring that knowledge, and yet most of the money allocated for schools goes elsewhere. “Mission creep” has dramatically expanded the function of public schools. Long gone is the era of the single room schoolhouse. The public school system involves far more than academic instruction and the trend is expanding. Schools serve as restaurants. Back in the day, it was only lunch being provided, with many kids bringing their own. In time, schools became full-blown eateries with breakfast and after-class meals added. Schools are athletic clubs. Sports are fine but come with a price tag and only serve a portion of the student body. Statistically, few kids are going pro. Schools are transit systems and they have been expanding. The consolidation of neighborhood schools into bigger campuses has increased travel time, distance and the need for more transportation. Schools serve as de facto daycare. Depending on the bus schedule, a kid can spend up to nine hours a day under the care of a school system. There are also after-school programs that are specifically designed to extend childcare. These and other extracurricular functions of the school system take on a life of their own and greatly influence any decisions concerning education. Since I already sound like I swallowed a calculator for this article, I will add some more stats. Perhaps our $21 trillion and growing national debt and tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities will all work out just fine. Maybe the money for a full-service school system will always be there, but if it isn’t, it might be smart to get a head start in providing more efficient education. Contact George at georgehasara@yahoo.com.

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