Money can't buy happiness...or a good education
More money means better outcomes for kids: It's an argument heard over and over in state capitals during budget season and in local newspapers leading up to votes on tax levies. At a recent event on Capitol Hill, Thomas Gais, the director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, made a similar case, claiming that more state education funding reliably leads to better well-being for children. If only it were actually that easy to improve America's schools!
The main problem with this argument is that we as a country tend to invest the most in kids who are already on track to do well—middle-class and wealthy kids, mostly white, largely found in the suburbs. Many are educated in the "public private" schools we profiled a couple of years ago. I believe that these kids have high "well-being," whatever that term means to the Rockefeller Institute, but it's hard to argue that spending state money on these kids' educations got them to where they are.
America's high-spending, high-poverty districts are the exceptions that prove this rule. Washington, D.C., New Jersey's Abbott districts, and a few others spend breathtaking amounts of money per student, much more than affluent nearby suburbs. Yet their students' performance as measured by standardized tests, graduation rates, and college attainment is dismal. All the money in the world won't buy a great education if it isn't spent well.
Marguerite Roza and Paul Hill argued yesterday that improving the way we spend the school dollar would provide the strongest possible argument for more money. After decades of funding increases with very meager outcomes, that's the right sequence: better results with current resources, then more money if warranted. Schools need (and have) significant financial support to operate, but money alone does not ensure quality—and never will.
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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 16, 2013