Analysis: More money won’t fix education failure


Like with every other government agency, the more cash thrown at the Department of Education, the worse the results are.

As it stands now, the U.S. has doubled its per-pupil contributions during the last 30 years (inflation adjusted) and ranks No. 1 for education-spending, considerably above the average K-12 system, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2008 Education at a Glance.

Yet with the increase in funding, the average math and reading scores for 17-year-old high school students have remained static since 1971, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s benchmark for student achievement.

And more, verbal SAT scores are on a steady decline – from 530 in 1972 to 504 in 2008 – while math SAT scores have remained essentially static – from 509 in 1972 to 515 in 2008.

American 15-year-olds continuously score below the international average on science, math and literacy when compared with 30 OECD countries.

Even with this overwhelming evidence that throwing money at the Department of Education does nothing to help America’s failing schools, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – the bailout plan being debated by the Congress and the Senate – is planning an unprecedented infusion of federal capital to local schools.

Disregard the fact that spending $120 billion on education will do exactly nothing to stimulate the economy; other than the unprecedented amount, how does this differ from every previous Republican or Democrat president since John F. Kennedy?

The current stimulus bill proposes $22 billion for higher education, $5 billion for early education, $79 billion in block grants for states to help stabilize education budgets, $26 billion in new money for existing special education programs, $20 billion in new school construction and more than $1 billion for technology.

All of this is in addition to the nearly $60 billion the federal government gives to local schools yearly.

If steadily increasing the budget ­– while doing nothing to alter the fundamentals of government education – got America here in the first place, what exactly will tripling the budget under the guise of economic recovery do?

There are several policy initiatives that would increase the productivity of the Department of Education without increasing its budget.

The government could allow parents access to the per-pupil funding so they can decide what public or private institution better meets their children’s needs.

Or it could mandate all school districts adopt universal budget transparency. Every dollar spent on teachers’ salaries, administration costs, construction and technology should be publicly displayed.

Better yet, school districts should be able to negotiate teacher salary cuts with union officials, if budgets are cut or when teachers do not meet acceptable standards. Also, unions should be willing to suspend seniority and tenure pay in exchange for merit based pay.

If the government is determined to pay for education, it should restructure it so that it actually produces decent students, rather than the current crop of national embarrassments.

E-mail James Cannon II at [email protected].