Without parental choice in education, expect more of the same

BY BRANDON DUTCHER Published: September 20, 2013
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Recent news reports say that Oklahoma had the nation's largest percentage cuts to per-pupil spending since 2008. Here are five observations:

We don't know really how much money the government spends on education. “Nobody knows, not even the principal,” scholars Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli write. “That's how opaque our system is.” The National Education Association says per-pupil spending in Oklahoma is $8,285. The Census Bureau says it's $8,863. Other federal and Oklahoma government agencies give different numbers.

“Because of the various funding streams that feed the system,” says Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute, “discovering exactly how much taxpayers spend per student is more like deciphering a riddle than reading a balance sheet.”

“Public school finances make Enron look like a model of transparency,” says University of Arkansas education professor Robert Maranto. “Under our highly complex systems of school finance and resource allocations, policymakers, educators and taxpayers simply do not know what if any strategy drives particular spending decisions, or how costs and outcomes compare across programs. In public education we are all, quite literally, flying blind.”

Is eight grand not enough? Should we double it? Triple it? The Census Bureau says the District of Columbia spends $29,409 per pupil — yet D.C. has some of the worst schools in America.

More spending doesn't help. As President Obama remarked in 2010, “When you look at the statistics, the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down.”

There are many reasons for this. Here's one. Economist Benjamin Scafidi points out that between 1992 and 2009, the percentage increase in Oklahoma administrators and other nonteaching staff was nearly three times greater than the increase in students. Today Oklahoma has nearly as many nonteachers as teachers.

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