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mh 20Jun00 - schools spending

June 20, 2000

If you've talk to educators anywhere lately, the report issued yesterday by the Southern Regional Education Board has a familiar ring to it. Even though school spending for SREB's 16 member states, including Maryland and West Virginia, has doubled since the 1980s, 11 of those 16 states now spend less on schools as a percentage of their total budgets than they did a decade ago.

Not surprisingly, SREB says more spending is needed. What it does not pinpoint is an area where money could be saved, or programs which have turned out to be a waste of money. Without so much as a tip of the hat to the idea of rooting out what doesn't work, SREB's member states will find it hard to sell citizens on continuing budget increases.

That's unfortunate, because those items that SREB identified as priorities in 1988 still need work. While SREB states have become national leaders in pre-kindergarten programs, student achievement in most member states elementary schools continues to trail national averages.

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Other problems include the fact that children from low-income families get lower scores on national assessment tests than low-income students nationwide. Students in rural areas of the member states scores lower than rural students nationwide and female students in SREB states don't perform as well as female students nationwide, or as well as their male counterparts, for that matter.

This is only speculation, but we've heard enough disparaging comments about the need for schooling to believe that at least part of the problem is that the culture - in this part of Southern society, anyway - doesn't value education as much as it should.

We've seen what motivated immigrants to the U.S. can accomplish, even as they struggle to learn the language. They have a hunger for learning and academic achievement many of their classmates lack. SREB and its member states should consider spending at least part of the dollars they get on a public-relations campaign to make students as hungry for an education as they are for the latest sugar-filled snack.

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