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May 24, 2017

Talking Points

.@RealClearEd op-ed privileges anti-union agenda over facts in denigrating school funding push

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A pity if overheated teachers union claims about the federal education budget become conflated with the actual needs of schools during this season of fiscal tsuris.

An op-ed in Real Clear Education today does just this from the right, taking to task the “interest groups” who want more money for public schools — by which they apparently mean Democrats, or, with respect to pre-K, safety, and building repair, the interest group known as Americans.

Their argument is built on meh tropes of unions as powerful, self-serving agitators who unrelentingly push for more funding. Support for increases is therefore little more than support for the union. Besides, federal outlays for education are only a small part of a school’s funding, and federal spending has increased substantially over time.

Both true, but not super-relevant. (See, e.g., the growth in pension costs.) If we can get more to schools, even a little, shouldn’t we?

You don’t have to believe that money solves every problem or there’s no fat in school bureaucracies to feel good about saying yes. The evidence is on your side: Increased and more equitable funding resulting from 1990s lawsuits improved student achievement, these researchers show.

Another study, also from 2016, determined that a 10 percent funding increase each year “leads to 0.31 more completed years of education, about 7% higher wages, and a 3.2 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

In a review of school financing research, Bruce Baker, a Rutgers University professor, concluded: “In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and a more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes.”

(The 74: New Research: States That Chose (or Were Forced) to Spend More Money on Poor Schools Saw Student Gains)

Baker also warned that school funding issues were often misrepresented in political conversation: “Increasingly, political rhetoric adheres to the unfounded certainty that money doesn’t make a difference in education, and that reduced funding is unlikely to harm educational quality.

“Such proclamations have even been used to justify large cuts to education budgets over the past few years,” he said. “These positions, however, have little basis in the empirical research on the relationship between funding and school quality.”