* I read with interest your interview with Education Secretary Richard Riley regarding challenges faced by our nation's public education system (Opinion, Feb. 13). While Riley's assessment of the problems in today's public eduction system is generally accurate, he neglects to mention another factor which heavily contributes to the problems of California's public eduction system: our state's spending priorities.
Under the proposed California budget for 1994-95, the state would allot $4,217 per K-12 student, which is the same amount the state is spending this current school year. If the budget is approved, it will be the fourth year in a row our schools have not received a cost-of-living adjustment. And, in real terms, that relates to an actual 3% reduction in purchasing power, or $116 less per student.
In the last 10 years, K-12 funding has increased only 4.7% while overall state spending increased 6.7%. Spending for welfare rose 8.5% and funding for prisons has jumped to 14.4%.
The fact is, we spend an extraordinary amount of state and federal money on unemployment, health, welfare and prison programs now because we haven't invested enough to educate children early and well. We spend $19,000 in the first year on a drop-out student who receives AFDC, food stamps and Medi-Cal, having given birth to a child. We jump to spend $32,000 to keep a young person in the California Youth Authority for one year, but we can't come up with an extra pittance to keep the same youngster productively in school. Unless we change our funding priorities, the quality of our society and our total tax burden will continue to worsen.
California needs to re-evaluate its priorities: Pay for and implement effective schooling strategies now and avoid having to commit to costlier solutions later.
WILLIAM D. DAWSON
of Public Instruction