Pricing public education
Protestors on UC campuses in California are focusing attention on the rising cost of higher education in the state’s public university system, which has seen cuts in state support of over a billion dollars. A Berkeley administrator sums up the concern:
“The rapidly rising fees give us all heartburn,” said Gibor Basri, the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion at Berkeley, who has met with the protesters several times. “We don’t believe that higher education is a private right but a public good.”
The funding challenge in higher ed has implications for K-12 spending as well. Society has a responsibility to fund education — both to provide equality of opportunity for all children and to develop human capital for the improvement of civic life and our economy. But what to do when taxpayers have already provided massive increases in funding after inflation over a sustained period, as they have for K-12 over the past several decades?
We can’t afford to focus only on the revenue side of the equation anymore if our goal is to ensure that quality education remains a public good. Just as taxpayers have their responsibility for this good, so, too, do service providers entrusted with public dollars: teachers, administrators, and school boards. When these folks avoid having tough conversations about efficiency, they weaken society’s promise of a free, top-notch education for all.
Reformers who are focused on “doing more with less” in the nation’s schools should reclaim the high ground on school finance. We all agree that education is a public good — but after huge increases in funding for K-12, the burden must shift to spending those dollars wisely and with the best possible results for kids.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
May 23, 2013