3 big concerns with showering more dollars on schools

School funding debates have led to several pretty costly proposals from the 2020 presidential candidate pool. From Elizabeth Warren’s education plan that would quadruple public school funding by pumping $450 billion into the system over the next decade to Kamala Harris’s $315 billion plan to raise teacher pay over the next decade, new education spending is appealing to Americans—but that is because they dramatically underestimate how much money schools actually get. When provided the actual spending amounts, support to increase funding drops.

There are three big concerns Americans need to consider before they jump on board with the above spending proposals and other calls to throw more money into education, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess.

First, there is the lack of assurance that money sent to the education budget will be spent wisely or well. The United States spends over $700 billion on public education a year, yet as a country we lag behind most other industrialized countries academically. Will new dollars make a difference when old dollars haven’t? According to Hess,

It’s vital that new spending be married to sensible changes and a commitment to spend existing funds smarter. Unfortunately much of what’s been proposed—especially on the campaign trail—hasn’t passed that test.

Second, we should be leery of politicians who promise that the answer to improving components of education, such as teacher pay, is a big injection of cash. The money tends to get swallowed up elsewhere. (For example, California’s tax hike to fix the state and fund education got nowhere near the classroom. It went to rising pension costs instead.) Hess continues,

After all, it turns out that inflation adjusted, per pupil spending on schools increased by 27 percent between 1992 and 2014, even as inflation adjusted teacher pay declined. Why? It turns out that growing swaths of spending were devoted to pensions, health care costs, and ranks of non-teaching staff that grew more than twice as fast as student enrollment. Unless these pressures are addressed, any boost will be only a stopgap—one likely to quickly be consumed by these competing demands.

Third, more money can lessen school accountability and the urgency to get school spending under control.

The truth is that nobody makes tough decisions in flush times. Though few will say it aloud, tight budgets, recessions, difficult fund-raising cycles, and the like can be extremely healthy for organizations when they allow managers to tackle problems that otherwise get swept under the carpet. Offering resources without asking school systems to get things like health care costs and administrative body counts under control can simply wind up being an excuse to avoid tough conversations and kick the can down the road.

Minnesota has dumped billions into education, and yet academic performance has dropped again and a persistent achievement gap remains. Math and reading scores in the United States have also declined. Throwing more money at our educational problems will not make them disappear. It’s time for the public to demand results for all their public dollars before they consider tossing more of them away.