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Monday, September 27, 2010

Public Education Benefits All of Us -- How Can We Make it Better?

Is there anyone who is against providing a first-class education for our children?

Show of hands?

Of course not.

Being against public education is tantamount to being opposed to motherhood or apple pie.

But for most of our history, education was in private hands, mainly wealthy hands. The first compulsory public school legislation was passed in 1852 in Massachusetts, and it wasn’t until 1918 that all states had similar laws in place.

What changed?

As we moved from a farm-based society to a manufacturing one, we needed an educated worker population. In the past 100 years, each new technological breakthrough has made a quality education more critical.

Today, providing a quality education for children – everyone’s children – benefits all of us. Just last year,  a Northwestern University study quoted by the New York Times showed that on any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates.

The report puts the collective cost to the nation over the working life of each high school dropout at $292,000. That figure took into account lost tax revenues, since dropouts earn less and therefore pay less in taxes than high school graduates. It also includes the costs of providing food stamps and other aid to dropouts and of incarcerating those who turn to crime.

While countries like China and Japan pour their efforts into education, we pour ours into building new prisons.

Yet, education remains the key to success in our society, both financial and social. For our country to compete in the 21st century global economy, we need an educated labor force to meet the technological challenges.

Here in Pennsylvania, the message is sinking in.  We were the only state last year (90-10) to increase the state share of education funding. As a result, we were also the only state to show achievement gains in every subject area tested and every grade tested. Between 2003 and 2009, PA's national rank rose from 9th to 5th (4th grade math), 17th to 8th (8th grade math), 15th to 7th (4th grade reading) and 12th to 1st (8th grade reading) (Governor’s Office)

Of course, we have much more work to do.  One way that helped us make these significant gains in Pennsylvania was a new funding formula that allocates money based on need, increases the state share and lessens the financial burden on local communities.

At Education Voters PA, we work to influence our policymakers and convince them of the need to support public education. 

Can you think of three ways we can improve public education in Pennsylvania schools?

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