3 Reasons Budget Deficit Can’t Be Blamed for Illiteracy

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Three reasons school budget deficit cannot be blamed for declining literacy in the USA

Left-liberal media: “Budget inequality harms school”

In 2022, a report by EPI claimed that education funding is inadequate and inequitable. Furthermore, the funding system for public schools shortchanges students, particularly low-income students.

Left-liberal media CNN reported poor conditions in schools in Baltimore that don’t have air conditioning, rusty water leaking from a ceiling in Massachusetts, and a cockroach infestation in a school in California.

Similarly, mainstream media Atlantic and CNBC echo the same “inequality” between wealthier and poorer districts. In 2012, NPR claimed that education inequality harms school districts in Illinois.

In short, we are told that the school budget deficit is a reason for illiteracy to promote pernicious social justice inequality.

Conservative media: “Blaming unequal funding is a myth”

In contrast to conservative reporting, the Heritage Foundation says that putting the blame on unequal funding is a myth.

A common hypothesis is that Hispanic and Black students perform worse in school because less money is spent on them. However, data show increasing the school budget rarely leads to better outcomes.

The point is that the left’s argument that funding is part of the illiteracy problem is a straw man’s argument because of the following reasons:

Increasing budget rarely leads to better outcomes.

1. USA ranks high in education expenditures

In 2019, the USA ranked fourth among countries that spent the most on education out of its GDP. Translated, it is a whopping US$760 billion (out of a 2.50 trillion GDP).

Schools spend an average of US$16,993 per student, the 7th highest per student out of 37 developed countries. [Education Data]

However, the data show that increased school spending does not necessarily translate into higher scores in standardized testing, nor does it make high school students more literate.

Prepandemic: K12 spending vs. SAT scores in 2019:

STATESPENDING (2019-2021 Average)SAT MEAN SCORE
New York25,359*1064
Connecticut20,7441046
New Jersey20,2471090
Arizona8,5571134
Idaho8,005993
Utah7,8111230
*N.Y. spends three times as much per student compared to Idaho and Utah, but their budget does not translate into higher SAT mean scores. (Source: USAFactsEdunomics Lab, via U.S. News for most spending and NCES for 2019 SAT)

Prepandemic: OECD countries spending in 2019:

OECD COUNTRIESEXPENDITURELITERACY
Luxemburg (Highest)US$98,917/student100%
USA (Ranks fourth)US$64,665/student79%86%
CanadaUS$47,469/student99%
South KoreaUS$41,706/student98%
JapanUS$40,376/student99%
Columbia (Lowest)US$12,074/student95%
Uzbekistan (Non-OECD, most literate in the world)*US$2,191/student100%
Ukraine (Non-OECD, US$5,314/student100%
* Uzbekistan spends a fraction of what the USA spends on education per student, but they are more literate. (Source: Statista (Total Secondary and Tertiary budget per student).

2. USA has world-class support for students

American public schools are one of the best in the world. The curriculum is constantly modified to accommodate students with learning difficulties. Students are provided free resources and mentoring to help improve their grades.

Despite the privileges and accommodations accorded American students, a survey shows stress and tiresome are significant issues of young students that translates into procrastination and poor grades. [Yale]

World-class facilities and benefits:

  • Primary and secondary school education is free in the USA.
  • Most schools have air conditioning, study rooms, and fully booked libraries.
  • Most students get free chrome books, iPads, and free apps for online resources, including expensive subscriptions such as Adobe Creative and literary apps.
  • High school provides free one-on-one counseling services, teacher mentoring, and study halls or resource classes.
  • There are free after-school tutors and student one-on-one for reading, writing, and math.
  • School lunch and breakfast are free for low-income families.

Case and point: Singapore vs. the USA

Singapore public school facilities are similar to the U.S., but not everything is free, especially for non-citizens. It was only in 2021 that secondary students got free laptops because of remote learning.

In contrast to the USA, Singapore had a high 97% literacy rate in 2019. The government spent about US$12,000 (out of 376 billion GDP) for each high school student.

Singapore also ranked second highest in PISA rankings (Program for International Student Assessment), where China remains at the top, followed by other Asian countries.

MacH.K., HK, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Estonia, Canada, and Finland were also in the top 10 in 2018. The USA ranked 25th.

Although Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines were ranked lowest, their literacy rate is still higher than the United States.

Asian countries like Singapore, China, India, and South Korea attributes their high literacy to teaching method—more than the education budget.

Case and point: India

The Indian government spends an average of US$300 per high school student, compared to the U.S., which spends an average of US$12,000.

The educational outcome for high school in India remains poor, as well as its literacy rate.

SAT equivalent in India

However, India is known to have a highly competitive and rigorous education system with a focus on standardized testing, and poverty continues to drive young people to do well in school, especially in standardized testing.

For example, the closest equivalent to the SAT in India is the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

However, the JEE is significantly more complex than SAT because it includes physics and chemistry knowledge rather than critical reading and writing.

Along with poverty in India, students passing the JEE have generally been on an upward trend, according to data from the National Testing Agency.

U.S. Immigrants from India

Given the low literacy rate in their country, immigrants from India to the United States come not with wealth but with hope and determination. Indian immigrants demonstrate that poverty is not a hurdle but an inspiration for success.

  • The median family earning of American Indians is USD123,700, almost double the nationwide average.
  • About 79% of American Indians are college graduates, in comparison with the national average of only 34%.
  • American Indians are ahead of other ethnicities in average household income, followed by Taiwanese and Filipinos.
  • Americans of Indian descent hold a significant share of jobs in high-paying fields, including finance and medicine.
  • About 9% of doctors in the USA are of Indian descent, and more than half are immigrants.

Source: Economic Times

3. School funding policy encourages illiteracy

In keeping with statutory requirements, the funding policy has encouraged more high school students to pass, even if they’re not supposed to.

Teachers are forced to pass “failing students” to keep up with the statutory requirements, and the result is catastrophic, as 75% of high school graduates are not ready for college or a career.

In the 2018–2019 school year, the graduation rate for public high school students had risen to 86% — the highest on record since it was first measured in 2010. [NCES]

However, “75% of high school graduates are not ready to make college and career decisions, according to a 2022 report published by You Science.

The money is there, therefore the problem is how it’s spent

Census Data shows public schools spent about $16,000 per student in 2019, while data from Private School Review shows that the average private school tuition is approximately $12,000 per student each year.

In 2021, students from private high schools tended to score higher on the SAT than students from public high schools, according to the College Board.

  • Public school: 523 (ERW); 513 (Math), a total of 1036.
  • Private school: 598 (ERW); 590 (Math), a total of 1188.

If private schools can do better, so can public schools, which spend more on average than private schools and forty times more than schools in poor Asian countries.

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