September 04, 2014
There is no
correlation between government-school spending and student performance.
It’s a fact
ignored by the dishonest interests behind “The Education Initiative,” a
ballot question Nevadans will consider in November. The measure would impose a
“margin tax” of 2 percent on the state’s “business entities,” and earmark the revenue
raised for “the operation of the public schools … for kindergarten through
No one doubts Nevada’s stinginess when
it comes to government education -- at least compared to other states. Only Idaho, Arizona, Mississippi,
North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah spent less, per pupil, in 2012. What’s dodgy
is the claim that greater “resources” can boost outcome-oriented metrics such
as graduation rates and scores on standardized tests.
“investments” in education was warranted as far back as the Johnson
administration. In the mid-1960s, sociologist James S.
Coleman undertook a voluminous, taxpayer-subsidized study on race and schools.
His conclusion is worth quoting at length: “Per-pupil expenditures, books in
the library, and a host of other facilities and curricular measures show
virtually no relation to achievement if the social environment of the school --
the educational backgrounds of other students and teachers -- is held constant.
… Altogether, the sources of inequality of educational opportunity appear to
lie first in the home itself and the cultural influences immediately
surrounding the home; then they lie in the school’s ineffectiveness to free achievement
from the impact of the home, and in the school’s cultural homogeneity which
perpetuates the social influences of the home and its environs.”
Fifty years of
data confirm Coleman’s finding. Illegitimacy is not a perfect gauge of overall social
pathologies, but where
it is prevalent, divorce and crime rates tend to be brutal as well. So it’s
no surprise that states marked by rampant out-of-wedlock births (think Louisiana and New
Mexico) perform abysmally on indicators of student proficiency.
In contrast, states with parents possessing the basic decency to provide firm
familial and economic foundations (think Utah and
have consistently stellar scholars.
Silver State educrats’ greed would matter
solely to Nevada,
if the assumption behind their initiative weren’t so entrenched. The Cato
Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson estimated
that between 1970 and 2010, the cost of sending “a high-school graduate all the
way through public school” tripled. According
to the U.S. Census Bureau’s assessment of “current spending” -- a
category that leaves out a significant number of masked outlays -- $10,608 was
spent on each student in 2012. This school year’s total tab will be well in
excess of $650 billion.
But it’s not
enough. It never is. With revenues improving since the depths of the Great
are poised to funnel more cash toward trendy boondoggles, including universal preschool and smaller class
sizes. Big Teacher’s political machine engages in every state, on multiple
fronts -- initiatives and propositions, legislative lobbying, local-budget
referenda, union-contract negotiations, and courtroom conflicts. Legal action has
proven to be a remarkably effective tool. Starting in the 1970s,
dozens of lawsuits based on nonsense
about “equity” and “adequacy” were filed. Many have “succeeded,” and thus dramatically
elevated school districts’ bills.
In the Evergreen State,
legislators are fighting a separation-of-powers smackdown that will likely inflate
education spending. On September 3rd, the high court in Olympia ordered the legislature to explain
its supposed failure to make progress on McCleary
v. State of Washington. Justices’
2012 ruling, as
The Seattle Times described it,
held that “lawmakers are violating the constitutional rights of the state’s 1
million schoolchildren by failing to live up to the state constitution’s
requirement to provide them with a basic education.”
The McCleary denouement is difficult to
predict. (Some believe that a contempt-of-court finding is certain.) But
there’s reason for optimism over Nevada’s
educrat-crafted, taxpayer-soaking scheme. When voters are granted the authority
to establish new revenue streams for government schools, acquiescence isn’t
In 2012, while
giving Barack Obama an overwhelming victory, Californians mildly approved a tax-hiking
ballot initiative to “protect schools and local public safety.” The same voters
soundly nixed a costlier
proposition devoted almost exclusively to education funding. Last year,
Coloradoans decisively rejected Amendment
66, a tax increase designed to pay for “improvements to preschool through twelfth-grade
public education.” The coast-to-coast revolt against property taxes, a phenomenon
extant even in blue states, is driven by homeowners’ observation that local
school districts are overstaffed and underperforming.
elites are hopeless, but perhaps a critical mass of Americans is starting to understand
that more money ≠ better education. Good news. Too bad it’s arriving five
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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