In previous articles I described how my research into the structure of our K-12 school system resulted in a realistic and workable reform that can succeed. (The Elephant in the Classroom). Because of the availability of alternative public school programs such as magnet schools and charters, along with parent access to private schools through vouchers and savings accounts, almost half of students in public school districts no longer remain in neighborhood schools during middle school and high school. Parents who are vitally interested in their children’s educational future will continue to get their kids into the many excellent public school opportunities and tuition-assisted private school programs.

But most of the other 50% of children who are left behind are forced to endure regular academic courses and high-stakes testing, even if they don’t have the motivation or preparation for more advanced academic work. Instead, they should be provided with the opportunity to enter career studies leading to certifications that earn them high-paying and interesting jobs. A much smaller group of this remaining neighborhood student population, approximately 5% -10% has the intellectual ability, motivation, self-control, and concentration, to enroll in rigorous college prep courses.

Those readers who acknowledge the incredible potential of this approach IMGP4037might be wondering who will pay for it? They should be concerned! In 2014 it is estimated that our government at all levels, federal, state, and county, spent over $985 billion on education. By comparison, we will spend $832 billion on the military defense of our country.

In the past few years, the federal government alone spent 94 billion for education, including Pell Grants and veterans’ benefits. Recently, that spending has increased to $145 billion per year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States as a whole spends $115,000 per student for education. And not all Pell Grant and student loan money is used as intended. At Colorado Mesa University, there is concern because some students took out an average of $25,000 in student loans, ditched classes, and used the money for other purposes (Pell Grant money can be used for non-educational purchases). Emily Shockley, “CMU hopes to Cut Student Loan Debt, fraud,” GJ, Dec. 29, 2013.

At the local school district level, school boards report expenditures of between $6000 and $8000 per pupil per year, but these figures do not include capital expenses and other items. A true cost is probably closer to $12,000 – $18,000. And this reform program will require cross-training of academic teachers and the hiring of career types.

Is an average of $15,000 enough? It depends on whether or not it gives us what we want. And what we want are happy creative citizens who will help our economy grow. If we were sure of the outcome, we would spend twice the current amount and still be happy –– wouldn’t we?

If this realistic solution is to work, it will need unprecedented support from private industry. Companies will need to contribute monies to the local school system, ear-marked for career training and apprenticeships. They will also need to coordinate with schools to develop working models.

One nice thing about career work is that it is less of a political football. Whereas liberals and Tea Party folks are on opposite sides of debates about school financing and curriculum content, they will all agree that making a soufflé requires mostly the same steps and skills that it always has, and won’t be bickering about curriculum materials –– or recipe books.