Public Education Is Suffering: 3 Politicians Who Could Turn It Around
As of the start of 2014, Americans placed education as one of their top priorities, with only the economy managing to surpass it 89 percent to 81 percent. Education was ranked higher than Healthcare, Social Security, Teorrorism, Crime, the Environment, and Immigration, according to a Gallup poll in January. A separate study shows more Americans dissatisfied than satisfied with the U.S. education system for the last fourteen years, with the exception of 2004 when satisfaction dipped up to 53 percent compared to 45 percent dissatisfaction. The percentage of respondents who listed themselves as “completely dissatisfied” has risen from 13 percent in August of 1999 to 20 percent in August of 2013, with an initial improvement in between.
FiveThirtyEight points to some changes that could explain why, specifically, that most public schools are fiscally doing worse now then they were during the actual recession. The reason for this has to do with the funding changes. During the recession itself, state and local funding quickly dropped very low, but a major increase in federal funding helped to remedy the situation, and according to FiveThirtyEight, there was even a small increase over the course of recession years in the amount spent on each student, while student and teacher ratios also decreased. Unfortunately, this level of federal support couldn’t continue indefinitely and as a result the economic recovery in America hasn’t extended to education. Quite the reverse, in fact. Funding at the federal level has decreased drastically, but local and state levels have remained largely flat, as is clear from FiveThirtyEight’s table.
This means that student to teacher ratios have worsened and per-student spending has decreased. From the 2007 student/teacher ratio of fifteen and a half to one, the ratio has increased to the present sixteen to one. Spending per student has decreased from almost $11,000 to $10,600 per student. So with education struggling for the first time in a long time — 2012 was the first time since 1977 that total school funding fell — and with Americans showing education as a major political priority, who are our best political bets for education? Many argue for depoliticizing education, saying politicians lack practical knowledge and experience to make the right decisions. They may very well be right, but with so much voter emphasis on education, the issue is hardly likely to be ignored. Realism comes in here and demands a seat at the table.
So let’s take a look at three politicians on both sides of the aisle with strong education backgrounds.
1. Jason Isaac
Local politicians are of particular importance when it comes to the politics of education in that local politicians can better ascertain the needs of their districts and school systems. This hardly means they do a perfect job, and some do a truly dismal job, but state Representative Jason Isaac (R-Texas) has been working to increase funds in school and specifically teacher pay. “Administrative costs have skyrocketed, in part due to increasing unfunded mandates from the state and federal government, while teachers’ salaries have only seen minimal increases. Teachers are one of the most important factors in a child’s education, and this should be one of the highest paying occupations. I will continue to advocate for more spending in the classroom, including teacher pay,” said Isaac according to The New York Times.
The Texas State Teachers Association reports that 2011 to 2012 showed the first decrease in salary seen in a decades, according to The NYT. Interstingly, Texas is hardly the worst paying state when it comes to teachers’ salaries. The National Education Association shows the U.S. average teaching salary at $36,141, with Texas showing an average 2012-2013 salary of $38,091. The highest salary rang in at $48,631 in New Jersey, with the lowest in Montana at $27,274.
2. Jeb Bush
Opinions on Jeb Bush’s education policy are highly dependent on opinions of the Common Core education standards, a controversial item Bush stands firmly behind despite his own party’s hesitancy. They are also dependent on your perspective on the education system. If you’re main concern is for the immediate well-being of kids, Common Core standards are problematic. They place greater strain on students and teachers, are resulting in kids struggling to get good scores, and not terribly great for “children’s self-esteem” as Bush himself would admit. However, if you take a more global view of education and competitiveness in a global job market, Bush has a more competitive philosophy. “Let me tell you something. In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self-esteem. They care about math, whether they can read — in English — whether they understand why science is important, whether they have the grit and determination to be successful,” said Bush in an interview with The Miami Herald. Jeb Bush has called himself the “education governor,” but admits to also having been the “Eat Your Broccoli Governor.”
With opponents and even those within the GOP, he may be right, but Gallup polls show that he may not be broccoli exactly when it comes to general opinion — more like carrots. Fifty-two percent said they had either a somewhat or very positive impression of the Common Core, while 42 percent say they have a somewhat or very negative impression of it. Not an overwhelming show of support, but not the worst vegetable on the table at the very least.
3. Hillary Clinton
With one potential 2016 contender on the list, it makes sense to add credit to the opposition as well. Interestingly, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton joined up on education reform in March of this year, at which point she gave him credit for his efforts in improving education in Flordia during his time in office, according to CNN. For her part, she called education “the most valuable asset that the United States has,” and has voiced similar concerns as Bush that higher education is becoming too expensive.
“I worry that we’re closing the doors to higher education iin our own country. This great model that we’ve had that’s meant so much to so many is becoming further and further away form too many,” said Clinton, according to The Washington Post.
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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS