Money can't buy happiness...or a good education

Money
Simply spending more isn't a solution.
Photo by Purple Slog.

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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