Tag: school spending

What Do We Know about Education?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the legendary Coleman Report, as George Will discusses today in the Washington Post. Will summarizes what experts in 1966 believed about education, and what additional experience revealed:

The consensus then was that the best predictor of a school’s performance was the amount of money spent on it: Increase financial inputs, and cognitive outputs would increase proportionately. As the postwar baby boom moved through public schools like a pig through a python, almost everything improved — school buildings, teachers’ salaries, class sizes, per-pupil expenditures — except outcomes measured by standardized tests.

Andrew Coulson put that key fact in a handy chart:

Education spending and results

Politicians, experts, and the education establishment still aren’t willing to accept the lesson demonstrated by this chart.

But if money doesn’t work, what does? Coleman emphasized cultural factors, notably strong families. Coulson believed that schools could improve, and that competition could help us discover best educational practices. This fall, public television stations will broadcast his documentary asking why educational innovations are so rarely tested and replicated.

Wisconsin: Post-Mortem & Predictions

Last night’s vote by the Wisconsin-based portion of the Wisconsin Senate has received enormous attention. The scope of collective bargaining by school district and other government employees has been narrowed, and the state will no longer automatically garnish workers’ wages to pay union dues.

This was the right thing to do. But how much of a difference will these changes actually make to the state’s bottom line? As I’ve noted, the presence or absence of collective bargaining is not strongly correlated with school district spending. Instead, unions have won their massively (42%) above- market compensation through well-funded political action; which brings us to the question of automatic paycheck deduction of union dues.

Without automatic dues withdrawals, will public school unions still be able to afford their fantastically successful political activities? There’s no reason to doubt it. Given the huge compensation premium public school employees enjoy over their private sector counterparts, they have a powerful incentive to voluntarily keep funding the political action that helped win it.

Indeed, we can see this already in right-to-work states like South Carolina. Public school employees there have no collective bargaining rights and there is no automatic union dues withdrawal, but the Palmetto State nevertheless has a teachers’ union and an administrators’ association that have spent large sums of money on political action. It’s worked. Despite not being the wealthiest of states, South Carolina still spends roughly $12,000  per pupil on its public schools, and its public school teachers earn more than the state’s median household income. The teacher and administrator groups have also successfully defeated every legislative effort thus far to open up the state’s education system to private sector competition and parental choice.

The only way to rein-in out-of-control public school spending is thus to give both families and taxpayers an alternative to the government monopoly status quo. Cut taxes on folks who pay for their own children’s education, or who donate to non-profit scholarship organizations that subsidize private school tuition for the poor. Many states are doing this already on a small scale. By so doing so on a larger scale, families will have much greater choices and taxpayers will reap enormous savings.

Why We Need Fewer Public School Jobs, Not More

That’s the topic of a commentary I just wrote at BigGovernment.com, tied to recent efforts to prop up public school employment with another $23 billion bailout. I won’t repeat the text of that post here, but thought the two charts bear repeating. The first shows that employment has grown 10 times faster than enrollment over the past 40 years.

The second chart shows how the total cost of sending a single child through the public school system has changed over the years, along with trends in student achievement.

Fairfax Schools to Get More Money, District Claims Penury

Washington Post ed columnist/reporter Jay Mathews had a great post the other day in response to some WaPo coverage of supposedly catastrophic cuts to the Fairfax County school budget. He rightly notes, “the end-of-the-world reactions from Fairfax County parents in my colleague Petula Dvorak’s latest column are so divorced from reality as to be comical.”

Oh, it is funny, but not ha-ha funny. It’s more a makes-you-want-to-cry kind of funny. Consider:

  • Fairfax aims spend 1.4 percent more per-pupil in 2011 according to their Operating Fund total, which includes the vast majority of total spending and core services.*
  • Total per-pupil spending increased 20 percent in constant dollars between 2000 and 2010.
  • Using Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) total expenditure figures, Fairfax spent over $15,300 per student in 2010. Per-pupil spending remains higher than in FY 2006.**

It is difficult to see how increasing the per-pupil budget in the midst of an economic crisis and no inflation can be construed by district officials as “dramatic spending reductions,” or “devastating.”

The Fairfax County school superintendent claims that nearly 600 positions will be cut. Why? Why do they need to cut hundreds of positions when their per-pupil budget is increasing? From what baseline is he measuring these cuts?

These facts and statements do not reconcile.  I have emails and voicemails in to officials, and I am eager to hear how they explain all of this.

*Their proposed budget document does not seem to contain an identifiable total expenditure figure. The Fund totals cannot be summed because of unnoted double-counting — because, well, who cares how much we’re spending overall, right? A query has been sent to officials, who need additional time to determine if their budget document can be used to calculate total spending for the budget and to provide me with a total spending figure.

**The WABE listed per-pupil figure leaves out some k-12 spending and provides a number that is significantly less than that in more comprehensive state records or that can be compiled from the district budgets, so I’ve divide the total expenditures listed on p.23 by the enrollment to get the real total per-pupil spending.