Hey, big spender!

George W. Bush is no underfunder on education, writes Frederick Hess. In fact, Bush is a big spender who’s boosted federal spending on schools with poor children by 52 percent.

In fact, this entire NCLB spending debate is serving to obscure the fact that American schools are actually well-funded, by any reasonable standard. After-inflation education spending in the U.S. more than tripled between 1960 and 2000.

Compared to other industrial democracies, the U.S. is at the top in school spending, at the middle in achievement. (Finland, which aced the latest international survey, spends only $5,000 per student and has class sizes of 30 in elementary school, says the New York Times.)

The steady growth of spending in the past decade, as in previous decades, has allowed schools to avoid cutting fat even as other organizations have slimmed down. In 1949-50, schools employed one non-teacher for every 2.36 teachers. By 1998-99, there was a nonteacher for every 1.09 teachers. In Washington D.C., the school system employs 11,000 people (for 65,000 students), less than half of whom are teachers. Meanwhile, school systems resist proposals for outsourcing support functions, shuttering unneeded school buildings, terminating ineffective programs, or installing technology-assisted methods of instruction and assessment that reduce the demand for personnel.

 Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Common Sense School Reform.

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  1. Mad Scientist says:

    Why confuse the issue of how Bush is underfunding schools and hurting kids with facts?

  2. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Working hypothesis:
    Scandanavian countries, being more egalitarian, have fewer problem students. Average cost per student would then be less, even if the cost of educating a non-problem student were the same as in the US. There could be fewer teachers per student, since the teachers aren’t kept busy being social workers and substitute parents.

    Perhaps the American Enterprise Institute’s next report will be in the educational advantages of a more socialistic society. Somehow I doubt it.

  3. In addition to spending “only” $5,000 per student, Finland offers paid maternity leave, paternity leave, government subsidies *per child*, government-funded care packages with every newborn (blankets, bottles, bassinet, etc.), very low college tuition, free lunch, child care, and a wealth of other safety nets.

    Don’t let the tag of “only” $5,000 per student fool you. Many other factors play into their top-notch schools.

  4. This seems to contain a more balanced view of the overall situation.

  5. Michelle Dulak says:

    Richard Brandshaft: It would rather depend on what you mean by “more egalitarian,” wouldn’t it? You seem to be equating “egalitarian” with “socialistic,” but the usual idea of socialism is that citizens are taxed at a high rate and the money spent by the government for the common good, yet in this case the Scandinavians seem to be spending less government money than we are.

    If you mean that the income curve is flatter in Scandinavia than it is here, then you have a point, but it’s unclear to me why that in itself would produce fewer “problem students.” It can’t be absolute leves of income or wealth, because there are “problem students” in all income brackets in this country.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that our cultural and ethnic diversity, and Scandinavia’s relative homogeneity, account for most of the difference. We are dealing with much bigger differences among backgrounds and experiences than they are. It stands to reason that it’s harder work.

  6. Bush is a good guy. He’s one of us.

  7. anderson says:

    The UK mag Prospect touched on this issue. Is it possible for a society to become too diverse?

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    I suspect we will have to find our own answers to an improved — or at least, better performing, in terms of test results — education system. I am amazed that JJ would waste our time with this post, frankly. This is a waste of everyone’s time except, perhaps, the education bureaucracy types who may have to publish or die. Why? Well consider: Norway, another typical Scandanavian country, is small (essentially a city state), population 6 million (smaller than the greater 9-country SF Bay area), totally homogeneous, with no immigration to speak of, and with essentially total literacy in at least one language. The extraordinary development would be the fact that Norway, or any other similarly situated Scandanavian country, did not perform well in standard educational measurements.

    Let’s move on.

  9. Walter Wallis says:

    Nothing to see! It’s all over!
    Move on!
    Don’t block traffic.

  10. I bet Finland doesn’t have a multitude of school districts, each with its own bureaucracy, administration, and curriculum. Here in the U.S., we can laud or loathe local control until we’re blue in the face, but we must admit that it has its price.

    In Arizona, most districts seem to be designed to make big high schools with winning football teams or to be so small that they won’t require a high school to be built at all. Anything in the middle is seen as unmanageable or wasteful.

  11. A few years ago, one of Joanne’s “Mercury News” columns compared California education with a higher funded state. Maybe Massachusetts, memory fails.

    Joanne observed the higher funded–and apparently better educated–state staffed schools with: nurses, psychologists, aides (to prep material while teachers teach), along with other learning and behavior specialists. When added to the operational staff such as bus drivers, janitors, and cafeteria staff, I would not be surprised to learn that less than half the employees are teachers.

    So when did “less than half the staff are teachers” become a de facto criticism, much less proof that our schools are “overfunded”?