Editorial: Ranking 5th in per pupil spending is good news
No matter how you look at it, the fact that Vermont ranks fifth in the nation in per pupil spending in public schools is good news. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Vermont spends $15,175 per pupil in public schools compared to the national average of $10,499. At the top of the heap is New York, which spent $18,126 per pupil in 2009. The District of Columbia was second at $16,408; third was New Jersey ($16,271), and Alaska was fourth at $15,552.
That Vermont’s spending is relatively high is good news because it reflects the state’s commitment to the value of a good education. And it’s good news because we know we are in the midst of a knowledge-based economy that requires a solid liberal arts education as well as advanced levels of knowledge in specific trades and professions. The states willing to ensure that their children meet those higher standards will not only serve their youth well, but will prosper in the decades to come as families choose to live in states that embrace the need for good schools and advanced learning. It is one of the reasons to embrace the moniker as the “education state” and to continue to pursue policies that will strengthen that reality.
And while Vermont is lacking on its financial commitment to helping Vermont high school graduates attend a state college or university (Vermont graduates spend more than students in other states to attend in-state colleges or universities), the state does have an abundance of higher education facilities that attract a steady stream of bright, young students who may one day call Vermont their home.
Pity the states at the bottom of the heap — Utah ($6,356), Idaho ($7,092), Arizona ($7,813), Oklahoma ($7,885), Tennessee ($7,897) and Mississippi ($8,075) — that will likely have to increase per pupil spending significantly if they are to offer their youth the best possible education. That doesn’t mean that spending automatically assumes better educational outcomes (and Vermont’s rural demographics make education more expensive than other places), but as all states seek to educate their youth to compete in the global marketplace, it makes sense that a quality education is not going to come on the cheap. Products that have a high value cost money, and that’s especially true with a product that is as labor-intensive as education.
Vermont’s challenge is not to reduce spending to come closer to the national average, but rather to hold the current level of spending to small increases while seeking ways to get the best possible outcomes to help our youth land good jobs. Achieving that goal also creates an important economic asset: We become a magnet state for families who want to live in a state that values education, and we attract new businesses and industry that need an educated work force to prosper.
As a driver of economic development, the ability to tout Vermont as a state that believes in and supports a quality education for its youth and workers is a highly prized asset that should not be undersold.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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