Chaise of New York, NY asks:
Fairness and the spirit of public education outlined by Thomas
Jefferson and others says that we should spend the same amount
of money per pupil. Do either the local or federal approaches
address this issue? If not, why not?
The issue isn't the amount of money going into a school--though
obviously some must--but the amount of learning that's coming
out. What Thomas Jefferson would want is for all kids to get to
go to great schools and to have the opportunity to achieve at
high levels--to be held to high standards. We need to focus school
reform on the results--what students are learning--instead of
inputs like spending. Some high-spending schools get lousy results.
Some low- spending schools get awesome results.
The federal role has always--and in my view appropriately--been
focused on needy and at-risk children. But most states are moving
towards some type of funding equalization. That's fine by me,
but please don't expect that changing our school spending will
per se yield better education for our kids. We've been putting
more money, more teachers, more everything into our schools for
decades with damn little to show for it by way of improved results.
We've got to radically change the system or else more money is
never going to help our kids.
According to the United States Constitution, the states have
the responsibility for education. States, in turn, have delegated
the administration of the schools to local school districts. The
level of funding for schools varies tremendously across states,
as well as within many states. Much of the disparity in funding
across states is related to state wealth; disparities within states
are due to differences in local property tax revenues which is
the largest source of education support. Federal involvement in
K-12 education is relatively recent and most of the federal effort
is focused on addressing the needs of specific disadvantaged students.
Its central purpose is to improve equality of educational opportunity.
Federal funds are intended to supplement and not supplant state
and local funds. For example, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (ESEA), the largest federal program, is targeted
to schools serving low-income children. Federal monies are also
available to provide services for handicapped students, migrant
students and homeless children. Thus, federal monies are structured,
not to equalize funding per se, but rather to attempt to ensure
that particular needy students get extra services so they can
compete on a more equal footing as individuals.
As a general rule, more centralized funding -- e.g. either at
the state or national level -- is likely to be more equal than
funding allowed along more decentralized lines. Critics would
contend, however, that centralized control would follow centralized
funding resulting in a loss in efficiency. Views about the merits
of centralized versus more decentralized funding are often based
on the values of individuals.