Report claims Southern Schools imroving

Monday, June 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — A 12-year campaign to improve public schools in 16 southern states has made progress, but one statistic looms: The share of the public pie that goes to education is shrinking.

In many cases, southern states have increased their spending at a rate greater than the nation as a whole, according to a report released Monday by the Southern Regional Education Board.

Even so, the share of tax dollars that state and local governments spend on education was smaller in the late 1990s than it was a decade earlier in 11 of the board's 16 member states.

``Maintaining the proportion of state expenditures dedicated to education will not guarantee better schools and colleges,'' the report said. ``It is difficult to imagine, however, given the challenges facing education, that simply spending the same amount — or less — will enable states to respond to the unfinished business in education.''

The report, released during a meeting in White Sulphur Springs, attempts to outline the board's progress in achieving 12 goals it endorsed in 1988, to be accomplished by 2000.

The objectives included ensuring that all children are ready for the first grade; that elementary and secondary student achievement equal national levels or higher; that the school dropout rate be cut in half; that 90 percent of adults will have high school diplomas or the equivalent.

States have made the most progress in preparing children for first grade, the report said. In 1989, six of the 16 states funded pre-kindergarten programs for 80,000 children; currently, 14 states fund pre-kindergarten programs for 400,000 children, the report said.

Yet while student achievement in several states has improved dramatically over the last decade, most of the states continue to lag behind national averages, the report said.

Other findings:

—In 1999, ACT and SAT scores were higher in nearly all of the 16 states than in 1990, and more high school seniors than ever took the tests.

—In 1980, 18 percent of young people in the region dropped out of school. That figure was 13 percent by 1998, where it remains today.

—The percentage of adults with high school diplomas is higher today in each of the states than it was 10 years ago.

— Average salaries for public school teachers moved closer to the national average in nine states. Average salaries for public four-year college faculty in six states improved relative to the national average.

The 16 states are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia.