We’re going to see this refrain over and over again this election season.
Education funding was a major theme of the night, and candidates said they were unimpressed with Walker’s recent increase of almost $650 million for K-12 funding, pointing to his cuts in previous years.
“That’s like taking a knife, sticking it eight inches in my back, pulling it out four inches,” said Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Wisconsin. “I’m supposed to say, ‘Thank you?’ You can’t do that. We have to adequately fund education.”
Liberals like to say that we should “fully fund” or “adequately fund” education. What does that mean? What’s the number? Any what does spending more on education have to do with the quality of education?
Let’s start from the assumption that people of all philosophical backgrounds want a good education for the kids and we all think it is the role of government to provide for that education. Those have been American values for centuries. What we argue over is how to achieve the best education for the kids at a level of taxation that the people can bear.
So what’s the right number? We have seen for decades that as we spend more per pupil, educational outcomes have remained stagnant.
It could be argued that students coming out of the education system today are actually receiving a poorer education than those in 1970 or 1980. And yet the call continues to be to call for more money. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. spending on education is at the higher end of the OECD countries. And the U.S. spends more than several nations that boast better educational outcomes.
I would posit that after we reach a certain level of “adequate” spending on education where the basic needs of safety and quality staffing are met, any additional spending has a marginal, at best, impact on educational outcomes. I would also posit that we already spend much more than that “adequate” threshold in Wisconsin.
If we really care about education and not just funding an educational infrastructure, then we should be talking about HOW we spend the money allocated. Why are we building education palaces instead of investing in teachers? Even in my own school district, some of the so-called “worst” buildings are producing some of the best test scores. Why are funding outdated benefits packages instead of adapting to modern norms? Why are we bloated with administration in many school districts? Why are we not taking advantage of technical innovations more aggressively? Why are we wasting time and money on classes of marginal or no importance to the kids’ futures? Why are we using our public school systems as social welfare agencies?
But those questions are hard to answer. It’s easier to bleat about spending more money on the same old system instead of discussing how to actually transform our education system into one that actually provides better outcomes at the same or lower cost.