No, education spending hasn’t decreased; and no, more money won’t fix America’s schools

Like a broken record, claims of insufficient funds as the source of our education challenges continue on.

One recent such claim came from Robert Pianta, the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, who opined in The Washington Post, “The one education reform that would really help? Giving public schools more money.” He continued by asserting that spending for schools has decreased since the late 1980s.

But this claim is incorrect.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, real per-pupil spending has not decreased since the 1980s; it has increased.

The data surrounding spending increases over the last three decades are so obvious that The Washington Post had to issue a correction to Pianta’s article.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that, adjusting for constant dollars, public funding for schools had decreased since the late 1980s. This is not the case. In fact, funding at the federal, state and local levels has increased between the 1980s and 2019.

Total inflation-adjusted government funding per pupil has increased by at least 39 percent since 1989, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And funding at the state, local, and federal levels have also increased by at least 33 percent since 1989.

Because Pianta’s premise that school funding has decreased is inaccurate, I believe this creates many holes in the rest of his op-ed. The education inequalities he blames on insufficient public funds are not money-related because they haven’t been solved over years of pouring more money into education. As my upcoming education paper will show (for Minnesota in particular), increased spending has little if any relationship to improved student achievement.

What’s the solution then? Not what is spent, but who controls the dollars that are spent, according to education expert Lindsey Burke with The Heritage Foundation.

Giving families, rather than government officials, control over education funding is what will make a difference long term—a fact the data clearly support. Education choice improves academic achievement, attainment, safety, satisfaction, and a host of other important outcomes in later life.

Why are we content sticking with a status quo that spends more money for dismal results?