As children head back to the classrooms, let’s look at two important figures to consider this school year: 308,000 and $11,400.
308,000: Number of members lost by the National Education Association.
Education special interest groups, such as the teachers unions, are experiencing a decline in membership. As Stephen Sawchuck reports in Education Week, “by the end of its 2013–14 budget, NEA [the National Education Association] expects it will have lost 308,000 members and experienced a decline in revenue projected at some $65 million in all since 2010. (The figures are expressed in full-time equivalents, which means that the actual number of people affected is probably higher.)”
While the decline in membership appears to have shocked the NEA, the remarks of one of the union’s top officials, treasurer Becky Pringle, are even more shocking:
We’re living with a recession that just won’t end, political attacks that have turned brutal, and societal changes that are impacting us—from stupid education “reform” to an explosion of technology—all coming together to impact us in ways that we had never anticipated.
Pringle is likely referring to the reforms that Governor Scott Walker (R–WI) put into place in his state last year, giving teachers the choice to join the union or not. And it’s no surprise that the unions fear the “stupid” reforms that are underway, namely, online learning and school choice. As former New York City Schools chancellor Joel Klein wrote in The Atlantic last week:
[T]oday’s entrepreneurs know they can harness emerging technologies to reimagine teaching and learning. It’s a story as old as change itself. The candlemaker’s union wasn’t cheering Edison on.
Those reforms are even more crucial considering the amount of taxpayer dollars that will be poured into the public system this year.
$11,400: Average per-pupil, per year spending in public schools.
Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year, meaning a child entering kindergarten today can expect to have no less than $148,000 spent on his or her education by the time the child graduates high school. In all, more than $570 billion will be spent on public K-12 education this year.
Sadly, continual increases in the money spent per child and in overall spending haven’t led to increases in academic achievement. That’s due in large part to the fact that most parents still do not have control over where or how that money is spent. We continue to fund institutions—sending that money to schools—instead of actually funding children.
Imagine if a child could put those dollars in a funding “backpack” and take that $11,400 to any school—public, private, or virtual. As in every other sector of American life, we would likely see outcomes improve as a result of competitive pressure placed on the government school system. Children would have access to schools that meet their unique learning needs. Parents would be able to harness the possibilities that online learning and customized education hold for tailoring their children’s educational experiences.
For all of those reasons and more, funding portability and school choice is an important assignment for policymakers to undertake as the school year begins.