School spending in Oregon: 7% below average

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

School spending in Oregon: 7% below average

The O's Betsy Hammond has done some useful and insightful research, comparing school spending in Oregon with the national average.

It turns out, despite all the political wrangling in recent years, that we've been predictably spending 7% below the national average - every year since 2002-2003. Before that time, we were just slightly above average.

She also cites economist John Tapogna, who notes that prospects for additional money aren't good:

The main reason Oregon spends less is that Oregonians earn less than the national average -- so they have less to spend. As a whole, Oregonians consistently contribute 4 percent of their collective income to public schools, he said.

Oregon's economy and per-capita income would have to grow faster than the nation's to make it natural for Oregonians to increase their spending on schools faster than the nation, he said.

So, what could help with regard to funding?

A jolt to the Oregon economy that delivers a big income boost also would help, he said. Another possibility, he said, would be "we get really deliberate and strategic with public policy and slow down the growth (in costs) of Medicaid and corrections."

It's that last word that's so critical: corrections. Oregon is the only state in the nation that spends more on prisons than we do on higher education. That's ridiculous.

We have to invest in education. That's the long-term solution to our economic - and criminal justice - challenges.

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    Part of the problem is that we don't spend our corrections dollars particularly intelligently. We have limited ourselves by committing to a maximum security mentality, ignoring the role that reintegration and community corrections can play in punishment and rehabilitation. Oregon is actually in the bottom half of the states in terms of actual number of people incarcerated. We could lower that number still further if we made appropriate investments in community corrections and post prison reintegration programs, instead of consistently starving them of funds in favor of traditional prison beds. Sometimes you have to spend a little money to save a lot, not to mention the lives that would be improved.

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    Yes, more public money for public education but only after significant changes are made. Otherwise, money will be wasted on an outdated, inadequate and inefficient system.

    My minimum set of changes includes paying to send high school students abroad for a year of high school, more foreign language immersion programs (especially Mandarin), and far more use of computers and online learning in the upper grades.

    I commented on Hammond's article on my own blog as "What $9,800 in student spending does not now buy."

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      I could be misinterpreting your comments, but It seems to me that any measure/bill/idea to increase funding for schools is met essentially w/ the same response: "Fu#% the schools until they start student abroad and more language immersion programs."

      I wonder, how many kids would have to be packed into classrooms before you would support a funding increase? 60...70? How short would the school year have to be before you would consider supporting a funding increase?

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        Joshua, I look at it another way - how many kids would need to be packed into a classroom until the teachers unions support paying for high school study abroad and more online education. I'll put students first when the teacher unions do.

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      David Porter, I ask sincerely, why would Mandarin be such a high priority? We know that millions--rather, tens of millions--of Chinese have been studying English or seeking to study it because they, like the Scandinavians, for example, see the practical value of learning and using this international language, along with their native language, beginning in elementary school if possible.

      I have studied several Indo-European languages myself and I'm all for language study. But why Mandarin over, say, Latin or German? And should any be a precondition for improving our schools?

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        Dave, you know that I generally support your efforts to broaden language programs, immersion study, and study abroad.

        But Patrick's question is a very reasonable one. English has become the language of international commerce - a fact embraced by countries around the world, including the Chinese. (And certainly, in the second largest country in the world - India - it's the official language of government.)

        We should engage with China in deep ways - with cultural, political, academic, and economic exchanges. But the language itself? Is that the best investment for making that happen?

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          Kari, yes, a reasonable question. Further consider (as not covered in answer to Patrick):

          (1) By learning English, the Chinese (or anyone) can sell us their products. But wouldn’t we be more effective in developing and selling the Chinese our products if we knew their languages and had spent time in their cultures/markets.

          (2) There are roughly twice as many speakers (as 1st or 2nd language) of Mandarin as of English. True, most are in China.

          (3) It’s a bit of hubris to think “English” will continue its international dominance. It may, but it may not. Consider this alternative. A quote from the book “When China Rules the World” (here):

          “The position of English as the global lingua franca, which is a very recent development, could therefore prove to be a relatively transient phenomenon. It is not difficult to imagine English’s dominance slowly being eroded and replaced by a rather more diverse scenario.”

          (4) Exchanges without learning Mandarin are good. Not everyone needs to learn Mandarin. But we need more citizens with that deeper knowledge that comes from language fluency and time spent in country. I think a target of 5% of student cohorts with reasonable Mandarin and time spent in China would be a reasonable goals for the near future.

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        Patrick, yes, hundreds of millions of Chinese are reportedly studying English such that China may someday have more English speakers (as a second language) than the US. And Mandarin itself, although China’s official language, is a second language for many Chinese.

        But the world is changing rapidly. Lots of countries are growing economically much more rapidly than the US, as countries behind technologically can do. Some, like China, India, and Brazil, have very large populations. All these emerging market economies are potential future markets for our goods and services. IMHO, for our economic future, we need to tweak our educational system to produce more graduates with the skills needed to market our goods abroad, skills such as foreign language fluencies and time spent in foreign markets (thus more immersion and study abroad programs).

        China is a special case. It is also a national security concern. As a rising economic power, it is also a rising military power. It could by the end of this century replace the US as the world’s dominant superpower. The transition from one dominant superpower to another does not always go smoothly. There could easily be war. In this case, war between the US and China (two nuclear powers). With less than 3% of Oregon students getting any Mandarin instruction at all (my updated and not very precise estimate), we are not preparing our next generations for engaging China peacefully (and in efforts to avoid war).

        Neither Oregon’s educational establishment nor its political culture of special interests shares this outlook. Imagine (it’s not hard, we have one) a legislature unwilling to shift $30,000 to send five high school student to China for the 2012-13 school year. I think profound strategic issues are in play. They will have none of it. We are adrift in a turbulent world. Pity the students and their futures.

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          Thanks for your response. I think there are likely places where you have discussed Mandarin study at greater length and I'd be glad to look there. Links?

          About study abroad for HS students: although my daughter did successfully study abroad for a year immediately after HS graduation, I'm still concerned that it might be a bit premature for many HS students. Consider sheer homesickness at that age as just one example.

          On the other hand my grad school recently abolished the term "study abroad," at least for its undergrads, replacing it with "living in the world," the assumption being that all its undergrads will now live abroad for a semester or preferably a year, including possible residence at the school's own campus in the Middle East. The concept is entirely foreign to my personal undergrad experience in the 1960s, but I think I can get used to it--at least for those students/families that can afford to do it. But a semester or year abroad for HS students? Has it been done anywhere? Thanks again--

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            Thanks for your interest. I do blog regularly on the Mandarin issues here, especially check the right sidebar under "Dave's Proposal." Also, for the fullest explanation, check the proposal Rep. Richardson and I submitted to the Oregon Business Plan in 2006 here.

            While high school study abroad is not for every student, thousands do so each year. There are lots of study abroad organization that arrange high school years abroad. For examples, Rotary, AFS (here & with offices in Portland) and ASSE (here) have large programs. Portland is home to several smaller programs. There is even a national accrediting type council (here)

            Most students have positive experiences. For many, it is life changing.

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      David--your single note advocacy and ignorance of the current financial realities facing school districts does your cause no good.

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        Joyce, message received, but give me another way to change the position of the teacher unions.

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          Why don't you try not demonizing teacher unions? Right now anyone who demonizes a teacher's union is in league with those who want to destroy public education, period. That's the situation we are in, David. It seriously is at that point. If you want to sit around and demonize teacher unions like you are, then you're no better than a Tea Party advocate who wants to eliminate all public education. Period.

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          You could first on focus on improving foreign language education in public schools (more jobs for teachers). If you can work with the teachers unions on an important issue to you (study aboard if you don't know the language is not very useful) that also leads to more teaching jobs then you are more likely to win their support on study aboard.

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    Of the seven western states, Oregon's per student spending is the highest.

    Betsy Hammond obscures this fact in her article, just saying that "Oregon has company" in below national average status with other western states.

    The fact is, Oregon spends more than every one of our western neighbors, yet our outcomes are no better, and in some cases well below that of these same states.

    The national average is skewed by east coast states (and DC) that spend upwards of $15K.

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      Oregon is 45th out of 50 states in per capita tax revenue for state and local governments, (meaning that we pay lower combined taxes than any state except for Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

      If the mantra of low taxes and less government == economic prosperity, then why are we not prospering?

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      Rob, is there something unique about the West that makes it reasonable to compare ourselves to the region - rather than to the country?

      Why do they spend more in the east coast states?

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    Repealing Measure 11 would go a long way toward cutting corrections costs. Anyone up for a ballot initiative?

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    Comparing per student spending with other states is sort of apples and oranges. When regional circumstances like cost of living are taken into account, I believe Oregon is near the bottom.

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    The figures charted are pre-k to 12 funding, and since 2003 Oregon has kept pace with the national average. Something else was crowded out by increasing corrections spending (higher ed?) Doesn't it follow that whatever was crowded out should get first dibs on any corrections cuts?

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    As someone who deals with education funding every day...believe me...we are doing without. My district will have lost over a third of our teaching staff in three years because of budget cuts. Programs are cut. School days are cut.

    Sending kids overseas to study during high school would be a challenge. It's not a union issue. I know teenagers. I have dealt with my own and with my students for 17 years. It would be far and few that would want to give up their friends, sports, proms, etc. to travel overseas to study for a year.

    What we need is an extensive overhaul of how we fund public education in this state. it is a crisis when we are about to spend more on corrections than we do on K-12 education in this state.

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      Deborah, I agree the number of students wanting to study abroad would be small, so the diversion of funds from classroom teachers would be small. It is an union issue. As an OEA Board member you are in a position to make a change. Get the Board to support shifting $30,000 at the state level to send five Oregon high school students to China for the 2012-13 school year. And do something similar only to more countries in the North Clackamas School District.

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        And just where is the money coming from for that luxury, David? You'd cut teachers to fund students studying abroad?

        When districts are talking about cutting their carryover balances to less than 4%, when districts are talking about having to cut 10-20 days out of the school year, you'd sink district money into your pet issue? Sorry, I can think of many other benefits for that funding. Especially since you then blame unions for your lack of support.

        Perhaps it's not an issue of unions, but of inadequate advocacy for a luxurious addition to an educational system struggling to survive--which you've openly advocated seeing go down if they won't cater to your specific special interest.

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    As a college student currently studying aboard in Chile and who has had many friends study aboard in high school, I really appreciate all that you advocate for. I do agree with Deborah but for slightly different reasons. Reflecting on my public school experience in Oregon, I would advocate for focusing on improved foreign language teaching in high school then increased focused on study aboard in our public universities.

    For various reasons I was not ready to study aboard as a high school student but after spending some time in college, I was ready and took the plunge. If we have students wait till they are in college with a declared major, we can make the study aboard experience much more impactful and useful. I say this for two main reasons. The first is that students will hopefully have better language skills and can focus on taking classes with Chinese students and not with other Americans learning Mandarin. Currently at Universities aboard most American students take a majority of classes with other Americans because our foreign language programs in high school are poor in quality. The second reason is that we have improved focus. I am a Latin American politics major so the classes I am taking aboard were all selected to maximize my preparation for a career that aligns with my major. I have friends who are chemistry majors who are language classes and chemistry classes aboard. The different perspectives you can learn from students studying the same major in other countries are truly priceless.

    I would prefer that the legislature focus on improving language programs in high school and sending more students aboard once they are in college. Also important to note is that Asian languages use a different alphabet then English so developing fluency sufficient to study aboard can take many years.

    Despite all my arguments, I do believe that high school study aboard can be very useful and impactful but when we are talking about budget policy I believe the focus should be on language learning in high school then study aboard in college.

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    This discussion about important education options that are before us has been very educational for me. I will look at Porter's links and I'd welcome more discussion here at B.O. of these related issues. Thanks--

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