Why More Spending Doesn’t Produce Better Schools

A new study from Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute has exposed the fraud continually perpetuated upon the taxpaying public—and visited upon the poor families trapped in criminally failed government schools—that if the state (in this case, California) just had more money it could deliver a good education.

The study concludes that, notwithstanding all the talk of “education budget cuts,” while school spending steadily increased between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 budget years, overall, direct classroom expenditures declined.

Indeed, California spending on education has not been “cut” at all—but, rather, radically increased during the period:

During the five year period, total school spending per capita (not including capital spending) increased by 25.8 percent, which was far greater than the growth in per capita personal income or inflation. During the same period, direct classroom expenditures statewide went from 59 percent of total expenditures to 57.8 percent. These statewide totals reflect a very wide range of variance among individual school districts, whose classroom expenditure ratios ranged from more than 70 percent to less than 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the 2009 National Report Card, produced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, shows California public school students ranking almost last in the country: the average 4th grader’s math score in California ranked 47th, higher only than those in Mississippi, Alabama and Washington D.C., while the average 8th grader’s score ranked even lower—48th—higher only than those in Mississippi and Washington D.C.

The failed Oakland school district is a case study example of the public school system’s top-loaded cost structure, with 152 students per administrator, versus a statewide average of 250. In a district with a budget of nearly $13,000 annually per student, doesn’t anyone wonder why the Oakland school board is considering placing a $195 per parcel tax on the November ballot to raise $20 million a year to raise teachers and staff salaries?

Unfortunately, it’s very rare for such ballot measures to fail. Time and again, voters are extorted for more and more taxes on themselves in the name of the children. And, time and again, every “budget crisis” is visited only upon students, with class sizes increased while the number of school hours, and arts, sports, and library programs are cut.

Meanwhile, while families across California have tightened their own belts in response to economic hard times:

Certificated supervisors and administrators enjoyed a 28% pay hike per student over the five-year span. Pay for classified supervisors and administrators shot up 44% over that time.

It’s time to learn the lesson once and for all: competitive, private enterprise results in the efficient provision of products and services for consumers—even poor, disenfranchised, politically powerless consumers. Government monopolies produce ever-worse services for which they extort ever-greater payola.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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