Five Facts on K-12 Education in the US

The Senate appropriations bill covering education — one of the 12 appropriations measures the Senate must pass each year — would allocate $98.4 billion for the Education Department, an increase of 34% from current levels, including doubling grants to local education agencies that assist schools in low-income communities.

Here are five facts on K-12 education in the United States:

1.  U.S. per-capita student spending is 37% higher than the average of OECD nations. 

The U.S. spends about $14,100 per K-12 student each year, compared to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of $10,300. U.S. postsecondary spending is more than twice the OECD average. U.S. per-student spending exceeds that of Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, and the UK, in addition to other nations.

2. Among OECD nations, the U.S. ranks 30th in math scores and 19th in science. 

Despite the U.S. spending more per pupil than other countries, we tend to have worse outcomes. Math scores were somewhat better in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, where teachers are paid less, and math and science scores were considerably higher in Canada, Germany, and South Korea, where per-capita student spending is lower.

3. Approximately 70% of the 3.8 million public school teachers in the U.S. are members of a teachers’ union. 

The National Education Association (NEA) — which also allows non-teachers with jobs related to education to join — has about 2.3 million members. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has about 1.7 million.

4. Teachers’ unions increased their political contributions by about 750% between 2004 and 2016, from $4.3 million to more than $32 million. 

That 2016 spending came almost entirely from the NEA ($20 million) and the AFT ($12 million). During the current 2021-2022 cycle, NEA contributions have already exceeded $2 million, while the AFT has given about $950,000. About 94% of all teachers’ union political contributions go to Democratic candidates for public office.

5. The average starting pay for an American elementary school teacher is about $39,000 per year. 

The U.S. ranks seventh among the 38 OECD nations for teacher pay. Teachers in Luxembourg start at about $70,000 per year; even veteran teachers in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia end their careers earning less than $30,000.

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