Monday, March 13, 2006

RealClearPolitics - Commentary - Myth: Schools Need More Money by John Stossel

RealClearPolitics - Commentary - Myth: Schools Need More Money by John Stossel

The NEA says public schools need more money. That's the refrain heard in politicians' speeches, ballot initiatives and maybe even in your child's own classroom. At a union demonstration, teachers carried signs that said schools will only improve "when the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."

Not enough money for education? It's a myth.

The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per student.

Think about that! For a class of 25 kids, that's $250,000 per classroom. This doesn't include capital costs. Couldn't you do much better than government schools with $250,000? You could hire several good teachers; I doubt you'd hire many bureaucrats. Government schools, like most monopolies, squander money.

America spends more on schooling than the vast majority of countries that outscore us on the international tests. But the bureaucrats still blame school failure on lack of funds, and demand more money.

In 1985, some of them got their wish. Kansas City, Mo., judge Russell Clark said the city's predominately black schools were not "halfway decent," and he ordered the government to spend billions more. Did the billions improve test scores? Did they hire better teachers, provide better books? Did the students learn anything?

Well, they learned how to waste lots of money.

The bureaucrats renovated school buildings, adding enormous gyms, an Olympic swimming pool, a robotics lab, TV studios, a zoo, a planetarium, and a wildlife sanctuary. They added intense instruction in foreign languages. They spent so much money that when they decided to bring more white kids to the city's schools, they didn't have to resort to busing. Instead, they paid for 120 taxis. Taxis!

What did spending billions more accomplish? The schools got worse. In 2000, five years and $2 billion later, the Kansas City school district failed 11 performance standards and lost its academic accreditation for the first time in the district's history.

A study by two professors at the Hoover Institution a few years ago compared public and Catholic schools in three of New York City's five boroughs. Parochial education outperformed the nation's largest school system "in every instance," they found -- and it did it at less than half the cost per student.

"Everyone has been conned -- you can give public schools all the money in America, and it will not be enough," says Ben Chavis, a former public school principal who now runs the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, Calif. His school spends thousands less per student than Oakland's government-run schools spend.

Chavis saves money by having students help clean the grounds and set up for lunch. "We don't have a full-time janitor," he told me. "We don't have security guards. We don't have computers. We don't have a cafeteria staff." Since Chavis took over four years ago, his school has gone from being among the worst middle schools in Oakland to the one where the kids get the best test scores. "I see my school as a business," he said. "And my students are the shareholders. And the families are the shareholders. I have to provide them with something."

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