How Much Money Does a School System Need?


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit dousing piles of cash with gasoline and lighting them on fire. OCPA carries my second new article of the week, this one on a theme all too familiar to JPGBers:

This January, the Tulsa World suggested a new year’s resolution for Oklahoma’s state legislature: “fund public schools adequately.” The paper declares that “we’ve never actually tried it, or at least not for long enough to make a difference.” So “let’s make 2020 the year.”…

From 1970 to 2016, current spending per student in Oklahoma public schools shot up from $3,637 to $8,426, in today’s dollars (adjusted for inflation). Are the schools twice as effective? Or let’s make this even easier. As spending doubled, did educational outcomes improve at all—by any amount? No. And the Tulsa World would seem to agree, since it asserts that the spending increase from $3,637 to $8,426 was not “enough to make a difference.”

How much money would be enough for the schools to finally provide the quality of education we have a right to expect of them? Curiously, The Blob always talks as if there were an objectively correct answer to that question (if what we spend now is “not enough,” they must know how much “enough” is), yet we never learn that answer.

Could it be that they themselves don’t know the answer? If not, why not?

Since my previous OCPA article this week had a Russia connection, I thought I’d find one for this article, too. And this time, I decided to class up the joint with some highfalutin literature:

Leo Tolstoy once wrote a short story called “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Pahom, a peasant, is convinced that he would be completely happy and content with his life—and thus immune to temptations from the devil—if he only had enough land. But each time he acquires more land, he discovers that it isn’t enough; he always needs more. His quest for “enough” land destroys him.

Something like that has happened to the government school monopoly. Generations of demanding more and still more funding, promising to deliver results as soon as they have “enough” money, have slowly eroded the system’s cultural prestige and middle-class political support. The rising star of school choice can be traced, ultimately, to the monopoly’s stubborn refusal to ask itself Tolstoy’s question. How much money does a school system need?

How much feedback does an edu-pundit need? Let me know what you think!

3 Responses to How Much Money Does a School System Need?

  1. Underlying problem – public schools waste enormous funds on expenditures repeatedly shown to have very little/no benefit to pupil achievement. These include added pay for additional certification, additional coursework/degrees, additional experience beyond the first years, reducing class size beyond the first few grades, professional development.

  2. Michael Shaughnessy says:

    I agree with Loyd—-a lot of money is spent on books that do not enhance reading rate, reading comprehension or reading in general- because students do not always read them and teachers do not always use them and administrators do not follow thru to make sure supplementary or ancillary texts are use…The literature ( and I HAVE reviewed the published scholarly research- clearly shows that teachers are unhappy with professional development offered and think it a waste of time…NOW, to address the rhetorical question of ” How Much Money Does a School System Need? ” the answer becomes–“How many children with “special needs” are being educated or assisted? And a follow up question is ” How much money is being spent on sports? And how much is being spent on administrative salaries.? Just some questions- no comments or criticisms.

  3. Tunya Audain says:

    Undoubtedly, many people are annoyed that such a high-expense item in a state’s budget — public education — produces such dismal and uneven results. Few do anything about this irksome puzzle. Some do recycle this mysterious enigma repeatedly in books and articles.

    UNESCO in 1971-2 produced two books, “Wastage in education a world problem” and “A statistical study of wastage at school”. Questionnaires were sent out to member countries, a conference was held, issues were identified: dropping out, illiteracy, inadequate training of teachers, examinations, the basics, etc. Recommendations were made. A literature list is included. However, further work on this seems to have been dropped by UNESCO.

    Greg points out in his expanded article (How much money does a government school monopoly need?), which he links, “ . . . there is no upper limit to demands for more money”. And, the money is typically “squandered”. He wonders how much is enough.

    I think it’s timely, especially as alternatives and choices are being actively deliberated, that this matter be seriously addressed. Greg was involved in a conference on choice a number of years back. Useful papers and a handy book on the topic were produced.

    Greg, you are an earnest “edu-pundit” and hope my feedback might be welcome. The average person ruminating and despairing about these contradictions in our education system is utterly stymied by it all. However, hopefully, people with voice and connections can galvanize some intelligence here.

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