The indicators in this section explore U.S. investment in the human and financial resources of education and compare this investment with that of other industrialized countries. Overall, the United States appears supportive of education. To illustrate, in public and private education, the United States has a student/teacher ratio similar to the ratios of all the countries reported (Indicator 39). Additionally, the public financial investment in education in the United States is among the highest of the G-7 countries, and of many of the other countries reported as well (Indicators 41 and 42).
When considering spending on education, it is important to note that not all countries' education systems provide the same services. Countries have different priorities for education spending and may allocate more or less money to such educational services as special education, in-school libraries, and psychological counseling, among others.
Public financial investment in education
To illustrate, the U.S. devoted a greater share of public expenditure to education than all of the G-7 countries except Canada (Indicator 41). Further, relative to GDP per capita, the United States is among the highest spenders of the G-7 countries (Indicator 42). Finally, the United States outspent all of the G-7 countries except Canada on a measure of per student expenditure on primary and secondary education in constant U.S. dollars. However, relative to GDP per capita, U.S. per student expenditures are in the middle range for G-7 countries (Indicator 43). As with most G-7 countries, in 1992 the United States devoted approximately three-fourths of its current public expenditure to preprimary through high school education and the remaining share to higher education (Indicator 44).
In the United States, most public funding for primary through secondary education originated at the regional (state) or local levels in 1992, while in France and Italy, most originated at the central level (Indicator 45). Public expenditure does not provide the entire picture of educational spending. Private expenditure is an important component of education financing in some countries, including the United States, that is not considered in indicators of public investment. Private expenditure can make up 20 percent or more of total educational spending in such countries as Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States. It becomes even more important at the higher education level, where it makes up more than 40 percent of the total educational expenditure in the United States and over 55 percent in Japan. (See the sidebar entitled Private spending plays a role in education financing.)
Cross-country comparisons of financial statistics have often been criticized for the comparability problems in the data. However, the indicators in this section benefit from recent improvements in comparability, particularly in the public sector.
Teacher salaries are the largest component of educational cost in any country. While the indicators described previously highlight the extent of U.S. investment in education, its spending on teachers lags behind many industrialized nations. To illustrate, high school teachers in the United States have lower salaries relative to GDP per capita than their counterparts in all the G-7 countries except Japan (Indicator 40). The comparatively low pay of U.S. teachers is not consistent with the high K-12 spending in the United States.
One reason for the lower teacher salaries in the United States compared with the other countries reported may be that U.S. teachers (especially high school teachers) are required to obtain less training than their counterparts in the other G-7 countries. Whereas the United States offers a year to year teacher training program, the other G-7 countries often require 5 or more years of training. (See the matrix entitled Elementary and secondary school teacher training and certification requirements.)
Staff employed in education
The United States also differs in the composition of its staff employed in education (Indicator 38). While the United States has a similar amount of teaching staff as a percentage of the total labor force as do all of the G-7 countries for which data are available except Italy, this percentage was lower in the former West Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States than in all of the remaining countries, except for the Netherlands and Turkey. Additionally, the United States was the only country where nonteaching staff made up a greater percentage of the labor force than teaching staff.
However, in the United States, support for education goes beyond providing for instruction. The education system in the United States offers services (e.g., meals, transportation) that are not necessarily provided by schools in other countries. In Australia, for instance, the education system does not employ nurses or doctors for most of its elementary and secondary schools. Instead, students rely on other sources for health care. (See the sidebar entitled Staffing a country's education system.)