Friday, November 8, 2013

Public schools do not need more money

As with most government functions, a political establishment has coalesced around public education. The establishment endlessly lobbies for more school spending, even as past experience and current evidence suggest it will not be helpful.
"Execute amendment sixty-six!"

This past Tuesday, Colorado voters dealt the education establishment a blow by rejecting Amendment 66, a ballot initiative that would have raised $1 billion in taxes for the state's public schools. I described the amendment for National Review:
Like most government agencies, public education in Colorado has historically received big budget increases, but supposedly remains chronically short of funds. Coloradans are being deluged with stories about schools that can barely afford to keep the lights on, but per-pupil spending in the state, adjusted for inflation, is up 20 percent since 1990 and about 10 percent since 2000. Where does the money go?...If current money is tied up in bureaucratic overhead, why not try to shift some of those funds into education programs before asking taxpayers for another $1 billion?...

The initiative also creates an “education achievement fund” paid for with the new taxes. It would enable passage of a separate bill that would use the new revenue on — in the words of the New York Times — “an educator’s wish-list of measures.” These include class-size reductions, professional-development classes, full-day kindergarten, state-sponsored preschool, and more. The cost effectiveness of all of these initiatives are, to put it mildly, dubious.
Colorado taxpayers won this round, but the establishment often uses the courts to achieve what it could not win at the ballot box. From a second National Review piece:
A favorite tactic of the more-ed-spending coalition is to bypass the democratic process via lawsuits. Judges will then use innocuous phrases in state constitutions — “effective public schooling,” or something along those lines — to seize control of education policy. Max Eden recently wrote on AEI’s blog about the Kansas supreme court, which used the word improvement in this sentence from the state’s constitution — “The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools” — to mandate that the legislature spend more money until test scores go up!
Colorado's supreme court recently rejected a similar lawsuit, but there are surely more to come.

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