Pointing to U.S. Department of Education
statistics, a new report by the National Taxpayers Union says increased government education
funds have not, and will not, improve the nation’s degenerating schools.
Americans spent an average of $6,548 per pupil in 1998 to educate the
nation’s children in public schools — a record high, since two decades
ago the number was $2,230 per child. But although spending has almost
tripled, test scores have steadily dropped, earning the United States at
least one distinction: the highest university dropout rates in the
industrialized world — 37 percent.
Verbal Scholastic Assessment Test scores for both male and female
high school students decreased from 543 points out of a possible 800 to
505 between 1967 and 1998.
Critics of increased government spending say the test scores prove
their point that money does not translate into academic success.
“All you have to do is put one chart next to the other,” said Pete
Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union.
“There is zero correlation between spending and performance. Once
you spend around $6,000 per pupil, an increase isn’t going to matter.
[Spending has] increased faster than inflation, faster than student
population,” Sepp continued. “Virtually every category of school-related
spending has mushroomed, and all for naught.”
“When examined carefully,” says NTU’s report, “the evidence
overwhelmingly suggests that while spending has consistently increased,
test scores, graduation rates and almost all measurable indicators of
education in America have fallen. Unfortunately, Washington’s efforts to
convince Americans to believe the big lie (more spending equals better
schools) have largely been successful.
“Advocates of higher spending might not be so successful, however, if
more Americans were aware just how drastic the increase in federal
education outlays has been since the mid-1960’s,” the report asserts.
“For instance, between 1960 and 1990, spending on elementary and
secondary education increased from $50 billion to nearly $190 billion in
inflation-adjusted dollars. During the same period, per-student spending
more than tripled — growing from $1,454 to $4,622. Between 1973 and
1993, public school spending increased by 47 percent while per-pupil
spending increased by 62 percent. At the same time, the total number of
teachers increased by 17 percent. Even more incredibly, non-teaching
positions grew by 40 percent.”
Eric Schlecht, author of the report and NTU’s director of
congressional relations, compares government’s education spending habits
with those of a “lazy husband.”
“It kind of reminds me of ‘lazy husband syndrome,’ where the husband
does something wrong, and rather than stop and evaluate the problem, he
goes out and buys his wife a diamond bracelet,” he told WorldNetDaily.
“[Government officials] see a problem and they throw money at it.”
“Instead of debating how much more to spend … or what minor
alterations will reverse more than three decades of failures, Congress
should question the role of the federal government in education,”
He noted the 10th Amendment which states: “The powers not delegated
to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the
States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” as
constitutional grounds for the federal government’s discontinuance of
its involvement in education.
“Federal education policy over the past 40 years has been a complete
failure,” Schlecht said in his report. “Washington should admit as much
and gracefully bow out of education policy. This would eliminate a
cash-sucking layer of bureaucracy and give individual states and
localities the freedom to reform their schools.”
While most observers agree the per-pupil spending and test score
statistics are evidence of an education system failure, some maintain
more money is exactly what schools need to improve student performance.
Jean Ross of the California Budget Project
told WorldNetDaily comparing per-pupil spending and test scores is
“comparing apples and oranges.”
“So many other factors have changed from the 1960s to now that you
can’t make a one-to-one correlation,” said Ross. “A lot more students
take the SAT today than in prior decades.”
Ross claims a “narrow” section of the student population took the SAT
in the past, but now test-takers are “further down in terms of class,”
have less money and so do not perform as well.
“You need to remediate the fact that poor kids aren’t going to have
computers at home. They have no books, no flash cards,” she said.
“That puts a greater burden of education on the schools.”
“Money isn’t everything,” Ross conceded, “but you have to start
The national per-pupil spending average is a good starting point in
California, she said, where poverty-stricken children are rampant and
the cost of living is inflated.
But the cost of living may not be the only inflated number in
California and other states. Education spending statistics are a highly
controversial subject, according to Ross. Inquirers can find
drastically different numbers depending on the source of information.
For example, per-pupil spending is based on “average daily
attendance” — a number that can easily be increased by admitting
illegal aliens, according to Sepp.
“Some of the disparities have to do with the unique characteristics
of the states themselves,” he said.
For example, Alaska, the nation’s top per-pupil spender, must build
schools for relatively few students in rural areas. Schools must be
built for 10 students just as they would be for 1,000 students, Sepp
explained, causing the state’s per-pupil spending to be much greater
than that of other, more populated states.
Teachers’ unions constantly deflate numbers related to benefits, he
said, noting most teachers work for nine months but compare their
benefits to those of year-round employees in other fields.
Another way per-pupil spending numbers can be deflated is to report
what states and school districts spend, but not include federal
But no matter how the numbers are calculated, one factor remains the
same: Increased funds do not equal increased performance, says the NTU.
“You wonder sometimes whether or not [bureaucrats] know any better,”
said Schlecht. “They have access to the same numbers we have.”
Noting bureaucrats and politicians may “just generally be untruthful”
about money relating to performance, Schlecht said fiscal conservatives
get a bad rap for opposing increased education spending, because,
“unfortunately, people associate money with caring. It’s good politics
in the face of the teachers union that are very, very powerful,” he
“People have tended to give up a lot of their responsibility of
raising their children to the government,” he added.
But the report’s author has not given up hope for education
“In my mind, there are few things in this world that competition
won’t help. But nothing will happen until the national media pays
attention and starts talking about the real issues. I don’t think the
average American knows what’s going on with government education
spending,” he said, adding that it won’t take much longer for citizens
to get fed up with paying exorbitant tax bills and getting poorly
“After a while, the diamond bracelet won’t work anymore, and she’s
going to leave you anyway,” Schlecht concluded.