School system needs solutions, not more money

Every so many years, some well-meaning soul with scant knowledge of problem-solving or the principles of accountability steps from the local or state education establishment, solemnly declaring education simply has to have more money.

It happened again last week, when a Palm Beach County School Board member said he wants Florida to give his board the authority to levy a new local sales tax for school operations or capital improvements. Never mind that this school system just got through collecting close to $600 million over the last few years from a special sales tax.

It’s often distressing to most businesspeople who understand economic principles when an elected official wants to “solve” some problem or another by imposing a new tax. You would think by now that the evidence would be conclusive to everyone that education problems will not be solved by throwing money at them. Studies over the last 30 years overwhelmingly show that increased education spending has failed to boost academic achievement. And it’s true all over the country. Tax increases for education rarely benefit children.

The most recent study, of 1,400 school districts and sponsored by the Fordham Institute, once again showed that money and quality education for students with disabilities “aren’t tightly linked” and don’t lead to better outcomes.

Our schools need incentives to boost student performance, not more spending. Studies conducted years ago by the National Research Council and the Heritage Foundation show that much of the new spending on education dollars has gone to fund and re-fund education fads and experiments promoted as cure-alls by bureaucrats and unions. Regardless of their intent, such programs are not putting a dent in the education crisis, and most of the time, are not even required to show their effects on academic achievement before more money is allocated.

One National Research Council study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, summed up its long-term findings about education this way: “Additional funding for education will not automatically and necessarily generate student achievement and in the past, has not, in fact, generally led to higher achievement.”

Increased funding for old programs that aren’t working and that fail to serve all children, especially the disadvantaged, does not demonstrate a commitment to education. Rather, it reveals a commitment to the status quo. Instead of raising the price tag on education, our School Board should support reforms that demonstrate responsible stewardship of taxpayer money. Our local officials should insist on programs that show results, and on higher teacher compensations that reward merit.

Funded programs should be required to demonstrate success before receiving additional funds from the local school district or the state. Only successful programming should receive more funding, through appropriations or through school choice initiatives. Allowing parents to move their children from chronically failing schools to schools that can meet their children’s educational needs would mean that successful institutions — not their failing counterparts – would be rewarded for their competency.

In addition to implementing a “choice” component, Florida education officials and local school districts should require vigorous accountability. The Palm Beach County School Board should commit to passing a resolution specifying how its policies and the plans for the district would increase achievement, and then be held accountable for achieving those results. Combining school choice and accountability is the best way to ensure that no child is left behind.

Rather than more taxes to fund an education system that has failed to increase student achievement, local lawmakers should demand that funding be steered to results-only approaches, and insist on real reforms that boost achievement. No more excuses or lip service. We have made a substantial investment in public education in Florida. Asking for more money to increase spending on programs lacking demonstrated success will not raise children’s test scores or produce a work-ready workforce.


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John R. Smith


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