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Published in Print: September 29, 1999, as Price Tag on Improvement: $32.2 Billion

Price Tag on Improvement: $32.2 Billion

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What would it cost to enable every district in the United States to adopt one of the comprehensive school improvement models that are now in vogue? The answer, according to researcher Allan R. Odden, is about $32.2 billion.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison professor got that number by adding up the components a school needs to have in place to implement Modern Red Schoolhouse, one of seven improvement designs being underwritten by New American Schools, a nonprofit corporation based in Arlington, Va.

All seven models start out with a basic staffing level of one principal and 20 teachers for a school of 500 students. The design also calls for a full-time technology coordinator, one art and one music teacher, a $125,000-a- year investment in computer technology, and $70,000 for staff development.

To that total of $1.4 million for a single school, Odden added the cost of a librarian, the expense involved in giving teachers extra planning time, and other routine educational expenses. The sum he arrived at-- more than $2.13 million for 500 students--works out to $4,270 per pupil.

More than half the schools in the country already spend that. The national median for per-pupil spending was $4,332, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Education data, which were collected in the 1996- 97 school year.

But many schools do not--particularly in the South and the West. So Odden further calculated what it would take to bring those low-spending districts--8,481 in all--to a point at which they could afford to put Modern Red Schoolhouse in every school. The result was $32.2 billion.

Odden, a professor of educational administration, says his numbers argue for the federal government to shoulder a greater share of school spending. Studies show, for example, that one-half to two-thirds of all spending inequities among districts are due to variances across states rather than differences within states. And some districts may never have the tax bases they need to generate sufficient funds.

"If there ever was a time for a stronger federal role in education it is now," Odden contends. "Now's the time to work on it because of the federal surplus."

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 19, Issue 5, Page 28

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