Money Alone Won’t Eliminate Education Disparities

Spending more on education won’t necessarily result in better student achievement.

That was a message from Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who spoke at the Education Policy Task Force Friday morning. A study from the center looked at productivity in schools across the country.

“When you start doing this type of benchmarking, you can see disparities around the nation,” he said.

Los Angeles, for instance, spends $1,000 more per student than San Diego Unified schools, but has lower test scores, he said. Internationally, the U.S. spends tens of thousands dollars more per student than other countries, but scores about the same on reading tests as Poland.

“Many school districts could improve their achievement without spending more dollars,” Boser said. Chris Tessone, director of finance and operation with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said schools are in crisis for three reasons: quantity over quality, out of control mandates from the state and federal levels, and benefits that no longer serve teachers, taxpayers and kids.

“When we confronted this problem of low achievement, most of our approach is to throw bodies at the problem,” he said. School districts hire more teachers to cut the student-to-teacher ratio.

Money given to school districts always come with strings. Mandates specify how the money should be spent, Tessone said, which doesn’t let local administrators target the money the best way for their districts.

The benefits for school staff also don’t fit the 21st century workforce, he said. Like most state retirement funds, the teacher retirement systems in many states are fraught with problems, he said.

Tessone said legislators could help districts improve the situation by treating teachers like professionals. He said they should remove state-level class size mandates and allow school districts to set salaries, removing any state-level salary schedules.

In addition, he said, they should get benefits under control, creating a sustainable, portable retirement benefit system, pay down unfunded liabilities through shared sacrifice and reform retiree health benefits.

“These problems have been in our education system for a very long time. The crisis has brought them to light,” Tessone said.  This pressure is going to continue and it behooves us not to ignore the problem that the crisis has brought to light

“The future can look bright if folks step up and make reforms that are meaningful and have outcomes for kids as their first priority.”