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One-Cent Tax Hike Would Close South's Spending Gap

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Residents of the 12 Southeastern states need to spend about one more cent for each dollar of personal income if the region is to reach a level of support for public education equal to national averages, according to a recently completed study by the Southestearn Regional Council for Educational Improvement.

The council, created in 1977 by the chief state school officers of the Southeastern states to study policy issues faced by public education, said that people across the country now spend 4.5 cents of each dollar of personal income--down from about 5 cents per dollar 15 years ago--to support public education. But because per-capita income is lower in the Southeast than in other regions, support for schools is lower.

The region has been trapped in a "low-income, low-support" cycle that can be broken if the people in the region are willing to spend the extra penny--which translates into an additional annual expenditure of about $90 per person, the report said.

It said that although "the gap between the Southeast and the national expenditure for education appears to be closing--moving from 72 percent of the national average in 1965 to 82 percent in 1981," the Southeast has "little hope" of "moving beyond last place among regions" in support for education unless "spending patterns change dramatically."

According to the study, the spending gap between the Southeast and national averages in 1981, as measured by such factors as per-pupil support and "per-teacher expenditure" (the teacher's salary plus the cost of all the "tools" required for the teacher to do his or her job), was $4.8 billion. The added penny in the region would more than eliminate that gap, producing $5.2 billion in new public-education revenue, for a 24-percent increase over the 1981 spending level.

The study suggests that citizens, policymakers, and legislators in the region have been reluctant to provide additional support because they continue to act on false beliefs that have limited the region's ability to provide needed support for public schools.

"That one extra penny wouldraise per-pupil expenditure to $2,739--101 percent of the current national average, according to Ronald Bird, director of research for the council and author of the report. The increase would "make it possible to raise average teachers' salaries in the region to $20,515--107 percent of the national average and competitive with salaries in other sectors of our growing economy."

Copies of the report are available for $2.50 postpaid from the Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement, P.O. Box 12746, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709.--sr

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