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Federal Share of Public-School Funding at Lowest Since 1964

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The federal share of public-school funding has reached its lowest level in 23 years, and much of the blame for the decline lies with the U.S. Education Department, the National Education Association charged last week.

At a press conference in Washington to release the N.E.A.'s annual national estimates of school statistics, Mary Hatwood Futrell, the union's president, highlighted data indicating that federal aid as a proportion of school revenues is expected to decrease to 6.2 percent for the current school year. The proportion is down from 6.5 percent in 1985-86, she said, and is at its lowest mark since 1964, the year preceding the first education programs of the Great Society.

"The Department of Education must bear the bulk of the blame for the declining federal effort,'' Ms. Futrell contended. "[Its officials] believe there's no problem in education that can't be solved by a quick quip or a trite adage.''

"Give me a break,'' responded Secretary of Education William J. Bennett in a prepared statement. "Once again, the N.E.A. reveals its cash-register mentality.''

"The fact is that the nation is spending more on education than ever before,'' the Secretary continued, "and more than any other country in the world. ... When will the largest and most intransigent of the nation's education associations figure it out?''

45-Year Series

The 45-year series of annual statistical reports by the union is highly regarded within the education-research community. Data from the reports, which are collected from state education agencies, are frequently cited by the Education Department's center for education statistics, the Bureau of the Census, and private researchers.

Among the findings in this year's report:

  • Total revenues. Public-school revenues are expected to increase to $160.9 billion during the current school year, up $9.58 billion, or 6.3 percent, from 1985-86. The rate of increase, however, is down from 7.2 percent between 1984-85 and 1985-86, and 9.4 percent between 1983-84 and 1984-85.

School revenues have risen 114 percent from 1976-77 to 1986-87. But, adjusting for inflation, using 1976-77 as the base year, revenues have increased only 13.8 percent in constant dollars over the 10-year period.

"It is fair to question the future of many state-level education reforms in light of these revenue estimates,'' the union said.

The N.E.A.'s findings on school revenues follow recent studies by two prominent school-finance experts that reached opposite conclusions on the adequacy of funding for reform efforts. (See Education Week, May 27, 1987.)

  • Revenues by source. State governments continue to be the largest single supporter of public schools, contributing an estimated $80.4 billion, or 50 percent of total spending, in 1986-87. The state share of revenues is up from $75.3 billion, or 49.8 percent of the total, in 1985-86.

Local governments contributed an estimated $70.5 billion, or 43.8 percent of total revenues, in the current school year. Their contribution is up slightly from $75.3 billion, or 49.8 percent of the total, last year.

  • Enrollment. Total enrollment in public schools for 1986-87 is expected to rise by 270,000 over last year, reaching 39.8 million, with an increase at the elementary-school level canceling out a decrease in high-school enrollment.

Elementary-school enrollment for the current school year is estimated at 24.3 million, a gain of 400,000, or 1.7 percent, over 1985-86. High-school enrollment, meanwhile, is continuing to decline, reaching an estimated 15.4 million for 1986-87. That figure represents a decrease of 129,315, or 0.8 percent, from a year earlier.

  • Per-pupil expenditures. Based on average daily attendance, the average amount spent per pupil is expected to reach $3,969 in 1986-87, up $214, or 5.7 percent, from 1985-86.
  • Teacher salaries. The average salary for a teacher with 15 years' experience and a master's degree is expected to reach $26,704 in 1986-87, up $1,498, or 6 percent, from 1985-86.

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