Monday, December 29, 2008

Mo' Money for Schools / No Money for Some Schools

There’s nothing that would have a greater impact on inequalities in educational outcomes by race and class than addressing inequities in education funding—inequalities that allow some suburban districts to spend $17,000+ annually per student while other urban and rural districts spend $10,000 annually per student. In yesterday’s Week in Review, Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress writes,

The grim equation by which accident of birth determines educational quality in the United States is straightforward. The poorer the district and the state, the lower the local tax base, with less money for students. No other advanced nation tolerates such inequities.

Miller proposes that Obama and the Democrats issue a new national tax, tied to the elimination of some state and local taxes, that would increase the federal government’s contribution to 25-30 percent of all education spending, up from the current 9 percent—a proposal similar to what Nixon advocated before Watergate sent his administration into a tailspin. Good idea…but…I don’t see it having a chance of getting passed. What keeps school funding the way it is not as much a pure philosophy of “local control of schooling” as it is suburban politicians who fight tooth-and-nail against any new approach that would transfer property tax revenue from their constituents’ schools to less well-financed schools. Plus, if it were to happen, what would prevent the affluent districts from raising property taxes higher just to keep their schools one step ahead of the schools in the neighboring district? Nonetheless, Miller’s point that Nixon took leadership on the issue is important in setting a precedent for Obama to step up to bat for schools, including spending federal bailout dollars on education programs in under-funded districts.


  1. While I agree that we should have an equitable system and that redistributive school finance should be the norm, I disagree that increasing spending per student is the way to improve our education system. There are many cost effective ways to do so were we to get imaginative and ambitious.

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  3. I disagree with the comment above. While increasing spending isn't by itself a solution to all of the problems in education, it is a necessary element. No matter how creative a teacher is, they simply cannot give each student in a class of 30 or more the personal attention they deserve. There are teachers who go above and beyond, but you can't expect all teachers across the board to do that. Both the teachers and the students deserve higher salaries and/or smaller classes. Similarly, while individual teachers can design great, isolated lesson plans, that is no substitute for a school investing in a coherent curriculum so that students can have an integrated learning experience during several years at a school. Finding ways to ensure that the money is well-spent and that teachers are performing well is of course essential, but not a substitute for proper funding.