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School Funding: Sing a Song of Sixpence, or $4.61 Billion, or Whatever
By David W. Kirkpatrick (December 20, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
From time to time these commentaries return to the topic of school funding. See the May 24 and June 14 issues of earlier this year. This issue could be addressed every week and not exhaust the possibilities.
 
Constant harping on the need for more money by the public school establishment and its defenders would be monotonous enough if some concrete evidence were cited but the appeals consist largely of rhetoric with no apparent recognition of the facts, such as current per pupil expenditures ranging from four figures annually to as high as $70,000 - and that's not a misprint.
 
In 1999, at a meeting in the New York State Department of Education in Albany, New York, information was distributed giving the expenditures for every district in the state.  One was listed just shy of $40,000 per year.  A few years later its spending was up to about $50,000 per pupil.  This year's budget is approximately $70,000 per pupil.  Clearly there is no such thing as enough money.  Not only that, this district's students still score below the New York State average on some of the state's academic tests.
 
In brief, the argument here, unlike some anti-tax viewpoints, is not blanket objection to spending money to educate students, even substantial amounts of money.  But it should be spent effectively.  Money spent on harmful programs may not only be wasteful but may, sadly, increase the harm done.
 
The cause of the current look at this issue is a new report issued by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education that calls for providing an additional $4.61 billion annually to the state's current spending of $17.25 billion, raising the total spending too $22 billion.  This would raise the per-pupil cost to $12,057, itself a degree of claimed precision that is itself remarkable.  This supposedly would "provide a level of education that would enable all students to master the state academic standards by 2014..."
 
Ah, so many problems and so little space...
 
First, the $12,057.  There are districts already spending more than that with inadequate results.  Then,  if  districts below that level are to receive increases, are the supporters of this proposal prepared to be consistent and reduce the spending of districts above this level.  Pittsburgh, for example, is said to be spending about $18,000 per pupil per year.  Ignoring the lack of success there that has led to declining pupil enrollment for years will there be calls to reduce the per pupil spending there by $6,000 annually since only $12,057 is needed?
 
Second, if history is a guide, you can be confident that by 2014 Pennsylvania will be spending more than $22 billion per year on its public schools.  That's only an increase of about 27% in the next seven years, less than 4% a year, a level the state has been regularly and handily exceeding.  There isn't the slightest chance in the world that the state will jump to $22 billion in the coming year nor is there much chance it won't be well beyond that by 2014.
 
Third, speaking of no chance, that's the likelihood that spending $12,057 per pupil, or any amount, including $70,000, will "enable all students to master the state academic standards by 2014."  As Ronald Reagan might say, "there they go again," promising something that can't be achieved.  All students?  No chance.  But, then, one thing government is consistently good about is overpromising and under achieving.  The leading example currently is the No Child Left Behind Act, the very title of which should have alerted everyone to the impossibility of it becoming reality.
 
Fourth, Pennsylvanians, and others as well, might recall that a 2002 Standard & Poor's study found that 60 percent of the state's high-scoring school districts had below-average education spending.  Conversely, about a third of school districts with higher spending had lower-than average scores.  So where's the evidence that a standard amount of money, in any denomination, might guarantee academic success.
 
Finally, for once test the rhetoric.  If $12,057 will work, try it in a few individual districts before implementing it statewide.  Take, for example, a representative rural, suburban and urban district, adopt the recommendations, save $4 billion and watch the program fail.
 
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"America's decision to have its public schools funded by a government monopoly is stunningly stupid. Having a union-dominated monopoly run them is even stupider.  Unionized monopolies create ossified, bloated bureaucracies that don't serve people well." p. 107, John Stossel, Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity, NY: Hyperion, 2006

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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