The foundation for the future economic success of the United States is quality education. With the constant increase in both mandatory spending and the national debt, the U.S. economy will need to grow to meet these rising costs. The study Education Next concludes that “the level of cognitive skills of a nation’s students has a large effect on its subsequent economic growth rate”(Hanushek 2008). Also, the Center of American Progress states that “schools are economic drivers, as well-prepared students will earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than” those who are less educationally prepared (Jimenez 2019). Because of the strong correlation between education and economic growth, the government should increase spending to support K-12 public schools.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools than before the 2008 Financial Crisis (Leachman 2017). States contribute 47% to public school funding, local governments provide 45%, and the federal government covers 8%; but 12 states have cut funding by more than 8% between 2008 and 2017 (Leachman 2019). This has led to higher teacher attrition, less educational materials, damaged school buildings, a decline in academic performance, and a negative effect on economic growth. In a study by FutureEd, schools that were found to have cut spending by 10% experienced a 7% decrease in test scores and a 2.6% decrease in graduation rates (Jordan 2018).
Additionally, another CBPP report states that underfunding schools can hinder improvements that have been identified to enhance student achievement “such as improving teacher quality, reducing class size, and increasing student learning time”(Leachman 2017). Underfunded schools have caused teachers to protest for higher salaries and other funding shortages in 2018 (Leachman 2019). As a result of underpaid teachers, the number of K-12 teachers and other school workers has decreased by 297,000, while the number of students has risen by 804,000 since 2008 (Leachman 2017). Lastly, a decrease in education funding has caused after-school programs to be underfunded. This limits students’ ability to “retain and develop concepts they learn in the classroom” and can inhibit them from discovering their career aspirations (Deutsch 2019). An increase in funding for teachers, school building repair, and after-school programs will alleviate some of the educational challenges of K-12 schools and national economic issues.
Funding for Teachers
To provide quality education, funds need to be directed towards revising processes for recruiting, training, and supporting teachers financially and professionally. To many, teacher training is considered important to student learning, but this has been found to be futile, in some studies (“What Makes Professional Development” 2018). However, research suggests that training focusing on discipline-specific curriculum development and active learning teaching strategies tend to be more useful to teachers (Hammond 2017). Additionally, adequate time to learn new strategies and access to colleague collaboration and expert support groups also enhance professional training (Hammond 2017). In a study conducted by the University of Virginia, another similar teacher training method known as computerized classroom simulations were found to be helpful in improving classroom management skills (Barshay 2020). The study concluded that teachers who participated in the classroom simulation, when combined with real-time coaching, saw “significant coaching effects on teachers’ perceptions of student behavior and ideas about next steps for addressing perceived behavioral issues”(Barshay 2020). Additional funding would assist professionals who organize these training methods to more effectively implement them. With these new processes, teachers will be further prepared to manage the classroom more efficiently and be able to strengthen student learning. Also, modified training and supplemental support could encourage more qualified teachers to apply for teaching positions and hold these positions for a longer period of time.
Similarly, higher salaries for teachers are positively correlated with the quality of teaching and negatively with teacher attrition. The continuous decrease in teacher salaries has led to a deficit of “110,000 qualified teachers” in 2018 (Leachman 2019). Additionally, in 2018 only 9% of teachers were not fully certified, 22% had less than five years of experience, and 31% did not have an educational background in the subject they were teaching (Leachman 2019). Shortages of qualified teachers are more prevalent in subjects such as math, science, foreign language, and special education (Barnum 2017). With an increase in teachers’ salaries, more qualified teachers will be willing to apply for vacant positions at public schools. Also, higher teacher salaries have improved teacher retention and thus improved students’ academic performance. Countless studies have proven that even a small incremental increase in pay will lead to a decrease in teacher turnover. For instance, one study by the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management discovered that a pay increase of “$1,200 in Florida decreased teacher quitting rates from about 17% to 11%”, with similar effects in Denver, North Carolina, and Tennessee schools (Barnum 2018). Additional analysis performed in San Francisco found the “incentive pay program” enticed more effective teachers to apply for the teaching positions (Barnum 2018). In terms of the correlation between teacher retention and student achievement, a Texas study concluded that higher salaries attract more experienced teachers who are more likely to stay in their current positions (Hendricks 2013). As a result of teachers staying longer in their roles, student performance increased because the “average experience of teachers increased” (Hendricks 2013). Lastly, studies concluded that schools that direct funds towards teacher salaries found students graduating from high school had increased by approximately 4% and those students earned higher wages as adults (Jackson 2015). As a result, an increase in funding for teacher salaries will incentivize more qualified teachers to apply to public schools and to provide additional support and mentorship for students. In return, a greater amount of students will increase their academic performance and ultimately be able to graduate effectively.
Funding for School Infrastructure Repairs
The increase in funding will allow for the upgrade of educational infrastructure. K-12 public schools represent the “nation’s second-largest infrastructure sector” and require a range of upgrades for students to learn in a safe environment (Jimenez 2019). Currently, countless schools face deteriorating conditions and overcrowding, an unsettling combination (Filardo 2008). In the District of Columbia alone, two-thirds of teachers reported poor air quality in their classrooms (Filardo 2008). A GAO report also found that one in five students suffer from poor ventilation in schools (Nowicki 2020). In addition to poor ventilation, most schools need to update or replace other systems such as heating, air conditioning, insulation, roofing, and plumbing (Nowicki 2020). To make matters worse, a report in 2016 concluded that out of thirteen schools visited, five of those schools were considered buildings that could no longer be occupied because of the large amount of deterioration (Jimenez 2019). These disrepairs have negatively impacted the motivation and “quality of teaching and learning and contribute to health and safety problems for staff and students” (Filardo 2008). One study in a Florida classroom found “mold growing inside ceilings”, causing allergic reactions (Filardo 2008). Some states have taken the initiative to modernize schools by completely renovating the buildings’ interior, utilities, and updating their technology. These modernized schools are able to support all education programs and enhance the quality of life for students and teachers. Also, modernized schools assist in maintaining “students’ health and well-being by providing adequate space for meals, health facilities, after-school care, and extracurricular programming” (Jimenez 2019). However, in order to solve some of these problems, the Center of American Progress estimates that “to bring all U.S. schools into a good overall condition will cost approximately $200 billion” (Jimenez 2019).
Despite the cost, research found upgrades have a positive impact on student outcomes. GAO reports that after updating school facilitates, students increased attendance as well as their academic performance in math, reading, and composition (Nowicki 2020). For instance, a study tracked a New York school before, during, and after it underwent construction, and found a strong relationship between improvements in the school building and an increase in math scores (Young 2003). Also, a GAO report identified schools that implemented technology into the classrooms saw increased academic success (Nowicki 2020). Not only does improving school infrastructure contribute to students’ academic performance but it also enhances the quality of teaching. The Economic Policy Institute states that “building design and facility conditions” such as classroom lighting have been associated with teacher motivation and student achievement”(Filardo 2008). However, in order to begin repairing schools, Congress needs to allocate funds in order for states to start performing audits on school buildings. These audits would provide Congress with cost estimates for new construction (Jimenez 2019). Once the auditing process begins and funds are allocated to update school infrastructure, quality teachers will be more inclined to apply for teaching openings and currently employed teachers will seek to retain their positions. Also, teachers and students will have a safe learning environment to improve academic performance.
Funding for the CTE Program
Lastly, continuing to increase funding for the career and technical education (CTE) program allows more students to start preparing for the workforce while in high school. Currently, the CTE program is already nationwide with “92% of students taking at least one career-technical class in high school” (Amy 2020). This program enables skill development “for careers in fields like information technology, health sciences, and advanced manufacturing” (Petrilli 2016). However, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 66.2% of high school graduates attended college in October 2019 and only 76% of college graduates were employed (“College Enrollment and Work” 2020). With a little over half of high school graduates going to college and being employed afterward, the CTE program helps provide students with another alternative to advance their career instead of going to college. Students who participated in the CTE program were “more likely to graduate, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and have higher wages”, especially for students from low-income households (Petrilli 2016). As of 2016, 72% of students in the program were employed full-time after high school (“Bridging the Skills Gap” 2019). Currently, in the U.S., there are more than 30 million jobs that “do not require a bachelor’s degree that pay median earnings of $55,000 or more”, but the number of jobs available exceeds the number of people qualified (“Bridging the Skills Gap” 2019). Not only does the CTE program bridge this gap successfully but students “can find a connection between their academic coursework and their career goals” which is a component of the White House’s initiative (Richmond 2016).
An increase in funding for the CTE program will provide the opportunity for it to undergo restructuring. A Forbes article mentioned that in previous years, the CTE program has developed a negative stigma and has been used as a “dumping ground to stick students who are a problem elsewhere within the system”(Greene 2020). According to Forbes, in order to rebuild the CTE program, there needs to be stronger partnerships between the program and local business communities to further enhance the students’ training (Greene 2020). However, there also needs to be a balance between the partnerships with local businesses and creating training that is transferable throughout the industry instead of training that is only applicable for one specific employer (Greene 2020). Additionally, the executive director of Advance CTE said an increase in funding for the CTE program “would allow for more instructors, more spaces for students, updated equipment and course instruction, and programs aimed at new demand areas” (Amy 2020). Additional funding to enhance the CTE program will further educate students and provide them with the necessary guidance in order to help them advance their careers through meeting the job qualifications in growing industries.
In order to increase funding for teachers’ training and salaries, school infrastructure repairs, and the career and technical program, it will be critical that the executive branch and Congress agree on formulating and executing a budget that appropriates funds for these three recommendations. In addition, Congress will need to consider favorable policies for schools. There will also need to be innovative and cost-friendly processes to adjust teacher training and salaries, school repairs, and the CTE program. Furthermore, open dialogues with politicians and the Department of Education will be necessary in order to voice concerns and create salient solutions. Also, the Department of Education as well as state and local governments should be required to review and audit teacher retention, student and teacher performance, and future employability of high school students in order to ensure that an increase in education funding is providing the intended results. Most importantly, investing in education today is an investment in the future. Allocating funds to support teachers, update school infrastructure, and further develop the career and technical program will stimulate long-term economic growth for the U.S. economy.
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