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U.S. Is Big Education Spender in Global Study

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Washington

The United States spends more per pupil on K-12 education than does virtually any other nation participating in a new international study, but the huge disparities in spending among the 50 states give it a unique fiscal split personality.

The report, which was scheduled for release this week by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, also found that U.S. spending for education goes disproportionately for expenses other than teacher pay, compared with the spending patterns of other countries that belong to the OECD. The United States spends a greater portion of its education dollars on budgetary items other than teacher pay than does any other participating country except the Czech Republic.

The OECD is a 29-country federation that promotes economic growth and world trade. It includes most European nations and other industrialized countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and Mexico.

The new report, "Education at a Glance," is the fourth edition of the study since 1992. For the first time, it appears in two volumes: the 396-page "OECD Indicators" and a 75-page summary and analysis. It presents a variety of characteristics of primary, secondary, and higher education--including the cost of education, levels of student and adult achievement, teacher pay, and the relationship between education and employment. The data were collected from 1993 to 1995.

Thirty countries, including the non-OECD-member Russian Federation, participated, making for the largest group ever. Not all countries contributed to all data categories.

Compared with other nations, Americans are big spenders in public and private education. In the elementary grades, the United States spends $5,492 per pupil, more than than 22 other OECD countries and second only to Switzerland, which spends $5,835. The study converted all monetary figures into U.S. dollars based on purchasing power.

In secondary education in public and private institutions, the U.S. figure of $6,541 per pupil is exceeded only by those of Austria and Switzerland. When it comes to higher education, the United States' spending of a whopping $14,607 a student outpaces that of every country but Switzerland and is nearly double the OECD average.

But when expenditures for education institutions at all levels are taken as a percentage of gross domestic product, or national income, the United States comes in sixth out of 27 countries--behind Norway, Canada, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. Americans spend about 6.8 percent of their GDP on education; the other 26 countries spend between 3 percent and 8 percent.

Public-Private Split

The report also tallies the share of all public expenditures devoted to education spending, an indication of the prominence it has among other taxpayer-funded spending priorities.

The United States spends 14.2 percent of the public budget on all levels of education. That rate exceeds more than 14 other nations' but is a smaller percentage than the commitments of Australia, Korea, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland.

Private money figures prominently in overall U.S. education funding; in only two other countries is private funding as or more prominent.

For all levels of education combined, the United States gets 23.6 percent of funds from private sources. Japan receives 24.7 percent and Korea 34.1 percent.

But in all three countries, those figures are heavily influenced by the large private-sector impact on higher education. In U.S. elementary and secondary education, conversely, 91 percent of the funding comes from the public sector.

For the first time, the report details the disparities in education spending among a nation's regions. The differences among U.S. states are greater than they are among Canada's provinces or Switzerland's cantons.

The highest-spending U.S. state outspent any of the regions in the seven countries examined in this category. The lowest-spending U.S. state was about on a par with the highest-spending one in France.

But Andreas Schleicher, the principal administrator of the OECD's statistics and indicators division, said it is difficult to equate the regional divisions of different nations. Comparisons must be done "with a little bit of caution," he told reporters at a briefing here last week.

Nonteaching Costs

Also new to the study were data on teachers' salaries and other budget items. Except for the Czech Republic, the United States spends a smaller proportion of its elementary and secondary education money on teacher pay than do 22 other nations.

At the primary and secondary levels, nonteaching costs accounted for nearly half of total U.S. spending.

But, again, equitable comparisons are problematic because in 13 of the countries, teacher-compensation data include all staff members' pay.

For all staff salaries, the United States spends 79.5 percent of operating expenditures--slightly below the multination average--while Germany and Japan each spend about 87 percent.

On teachers' pay alone, the United States devotes 56.2 percent of current spending--less than Austria, Finland, Greece, or Ireland, but more than Denmark and Sweden.

The Department of Education helps underwrite the OECD study.

The United States takes part "because the U.S. is interested in having a world-class education system and wants to be able to compare our performance to others'," said Nabeel Alsalam, the director of special studies and reports at the department's National Center for Education Statistics.

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