Money doesn’t buy better schools, argues Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. John Kerry is proposing spending an extra $200 billion on education over 10 years. George W. Bush brags about enacting a 49 percent increase in K-12 spending and a 75 percent increase in special-education funding. “Between 2001 and 2004 federal education appropriations nearly doubled, from $29.4 billion to $55.7 billion,” Hess writes.
Conservatives have permitted the debate to proceed on the dubious assumption that Americans are shortchanging our schools and that promising new dollars is de rigeur for those who would promote serious school reform. The current debate has obscured the fact that, by any reasonable standard, American schools are exceptionally well funded.
The truth is that, between 1960 and 2000, after-inflation education spending more than tripled.
There hasn’t been much pay-off. The U.S. spends more per student than other developed countries, yet U.S. students are just average on international comparisons.
U.S. schools have hired many more non-teachers with the extra money. They’ve also hired more teachers to decrease class sizes and reduce teacher workloads.
For decades, we have poured money into shrinking class sizes and reducing teacher workloads. Between 1960 and 2000, the ratio of teachers to students fell from one teacher for every 26 students to one for every 16.1 students, meaning that today’s teachers instruct only about 60 percent as many students as teachers did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, the amount of time teachers spend with students each day has actually shrunk, from an average of 4.5 hours in 1980 to 3.9 hours in 1998.
. . . Additional personnel have soaked up dollars that could have rewarded accomplished practitioners, been invested in technology, or used for effective professional development.
“New spending inevitably yields new initiatives tossed atop old inefficiencies,” Hess writes.