To hear public school advocates tell it, the only real problem with schools today is taxpayer parsimony. As the country's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, claims on its Web site (www.nea.org), "Funding has not kept pace with dramatic increases in enrollment or with the rising costs of educating a diverse student body with varied needs."Those needs must be exceptionally diverse–and pricey, too. According to U.S. Department of Education stats, real per-pupil spending more than tripled between 1960 and 1996 (the last year for which there are complete data). Over the same period, the number of pupils per teacher declined from 26 to 17 while salaries for instructional staff jumped from $27,206 to $39,451 (in constant 1996 dollars).
Says Mike Antonucci, director of The Education Intelligence Agency, a private research firm based in Sacramento California, "Instead of getting a bang for our buck, we are getting a whimper."