Can We Afford to Improve Education?
Public education is in trouble right now. Yes, the virus is awful, but things were bad before the pandemic and now they have gotten worse. Public schools have multiple deficits and the virus has left them with fewer students, hence less money to meet those deficits.
If you were in charge, how would you spend the limited resources. Here are a few options to consider.
First of all is teacher salaries. The average teacher salary in Maryland is $60,000 after about five years on the job. They earn much less than other college educated workers. It would take about 35.5 billion dollars To close that wage gap for all 3.5 million teachers nationwide. That is a significant amount of money. How would this expenditure improve education for kids?
Many children in lower socio-economic groups struggle after school. They do not have good places to go. What would it cost to provide high-quality after school programing for the 35.5 million kids preK through 8th grade who could benefit from extended or enriched learning experiences? Programs that would keep kids off the street and support their social-emotional development. Of course, there is a price tag to that. It is about 122 billion dollars. Would that level of investment pay dividends in more kids staying in school and more children benefiting from school experiences rather than getting into criminal or gang activity down the road?
Many states do not require full-day kindergarten. Yet most educators believe that children would benefit from the start with high quality kindergarten. To provide that service, schools would need to hire about 56 thousand kindergarten teachers. It is not clear where they would be found, but at current salary rates, the cost would be about 5 billion dollars. Would the return on that investment of better prepared students to start school be worth it?
The pandemic has made it increasingly clear that school buildings in our country are aging. Many are so old that the HVAC systems cannot be upgraded for better filtration. There are about 70,000 school buildings in our country. It is projected that it would cost 215.5 billion dollars to fully upgrade the buildings that need repair, renovation or modernization. Our kids deserve to be educated in a decent facility. Are we willing to pay the price to do that?
Perhaps the final item on the menu is the easiest. We have learned during the pandemic that iPads and Chromebooks are great learning devices even after the crisis is over. For a mere 14 billion dollars every student could have a device.
If you were in charge, where would your values direct your money? And as a taxpayer it IS your money. How would you spend it?