Nalini Joseph: What’s wrong with education?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 2, 2021

“Our schools are failing.” How often do we hear pundits in the field of education make statements such as this? Billions of dollars later, (perhaps trillions — judging from the fact that in fiscal year 2018-19, $13.9 billion was spent on K-12 public schools) why are we still left complaining about non-engagement or dis-engagement of children while in the classroom?

Parents (not all, but a good proportion) have a tendency to blame teachers. Teachers turn around and blame the system. Teachers’ unions in turn get their lobbyists working, and we get more dollars thrown into the education budget. I am not a schoolteacher, but from all I have read, the teachers see little, if any, of this money — but that’s another story.

They build a new gym, a new cafeteria, or replace the air conditioning system. Essentially, a good chunk of the money seemingly goes into everything other than ensuring children’s academic excellence and/or teacher’s salaries.

Something is very wrong with “the system” when people like Ms. AOC are compensated over $175K, and a teacher who is responsible for educating tomorrow’s leaders is compensated, on average, between $48K-$65K.

Why is it that In-n-Out burger in California can afford to pay its managers (who do not hold a college education) $160K, but our government in any of our 50 states with huge education budgets cannot pay our teachers a comparable salary? Is it that we, as a society, have stooped so low as to not have any respect for the teaching profession?

How are we to attract smart young people who are talented and high achievers in university into the profession of teaching when we start them off at $35K a year?  One standard argument is: “they get two months paid vacation every year!” Hmmm … what exactly does a young person do during those two months of vacation when they are so severely underpaid? Vacations cost more than everyday living.

I suppose “equitable treatment” does not apply to good hard working professional teachers; they somehow were left off the equity bandwagon.

I invite you to do some simple math with me. The state Board of Education has a budget of roughly $14 billion for K-12 spending. Let’s say a teacher makes roughly (grossly overestimating, to account for benefits, etc.) $75K per year and we have roughly 100,000 teachers in the NC system. Teachers therefore receive about $7.5 billion. There are approximately 1.5 million children in the system, so the per pupil/teacher expense is about $5,000/year. If you divide $14 billion (the budgeted amount) by 1.5 million children, that’s approximately $9,400/year. Does this mean we spend the balance of $4,400 per child on administrative costs such as textbooks, insurance, etc. and infrastructure costs such as electricity? Perhaps the better question is this: why does it cost a parent less for a child to go to private school than it does for the state to educate the same child at a public school? Do private schools pay their teachers 20% less than public schools? Or is it a case of a completely mismanaged public school system?

I may be looking at this very simplistically; I may be wrong in my assumptions. Or is this an example of the gross inefficiency of the public sector versus the higher efficiency of the private sector? I welcome your comments and explanations.

The saddest part of this whole saga is that it appears that despite excessive spending and despite the arduous efforts of our educators, many public-school children are shortchanged in the academic arena. Will we be forced to import a vast influx of physicians and surgeons from other countries because, as in the 1960s, there will be a shortage of medical professionals who are educated in America?

I wonder if more computer programmers and IT professionals will have to be brought in on H1-B visas because our kids just don’t measure up. I wonder whether our ever “evolving” culture (perhaps you watched snippets of the Grammy awards?) is a cause, an effect, or a symptom, of the education — or lack thereof — our children receive in our publicly funded schools.

Nalini Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. Email her at