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U.S. Lags in Spending on Young Children, Report Says

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The United States trails most industrialized nations in the amount of public spending on younger children, according to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. This spending increases, however, as children get older, and the U.S. system outpaces other developed countries in resources channeled toward students in the 6-11 and 12-17 age groups.

While overall U.S. public spending on children ranks among the highest across the OECD, child poverty rates in the United States stand at 21.6 percent, nearly twice the OECD average, the report says. Public support for children, as measured in the study, includes cash benefits and tax credits for families, education, and childcare. It does not include public spending on health, according to the OECD report.

Educational attainment in the U.S. compares poorly to the average among those nations, it finds. Additionally, this country has higher rates of infant and child mortality and of low birth weight than the OECD average, the report finds.

To OECD officials, the message from the data is that the U.S. should spend more on young children and disadvantaged teenagers. "Despite the United States' strong research and policy tradition in the area of child well-being, too many American children are still behind," Simon Chapple, the co-author of the OECD report, said in a statement.

It's probably worth noting that, when OECD has released reports in the past, not all researchers have agreed with the Paris-based organization's policy ideas. Some observers, like Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, have said the organization oversteps its bounds and strays into subjectivity when it issues policy recommendations in reports that put forward statistical data.

What's your view—are the OECD's latest findings on the money?

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It's really not surprising. I've heard statistics like this before. We have always prioritized spending in the military, for example, over small children. It's become an American tradition now, in fact, to bash schools, unions, the education system in general--but then stop short of any real useful suggestions for how to fix this egregrious economic disparity between classes. The answer is we have to start investing in the long term, and not worry about short term, politically expedient gains. We know, for example, that early intervention works (I have students who are living examples of this). We know it's more expensive to house criminals in penitentiaries, yet no one wants to do anything about this. It makes a better stump speech in this testosterone-pumped nation if we say we're going to build new jails for the bad guys instead of putting money into health care, early intervention, or any other human service that affects other people's children. Sad but true. There's hope, of course. We can look at what these countries in the OECD survey are doing better and emulate them. But that has never been the American way. Unfortunately.

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