School spending doesn't mean better education, despite Obama

politics | Oct 31, 2015 | By Martin Barillas

In his weekly address to the nation, President Barack Obama appeared to repeat the notion that increased spending on schools can improve the level of education among the nation’s students. Speaking on October 31, Obama sought to connect the dots between schools and prisons. He said, “I believe we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. I believe we can address the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration. And I believe we can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society.”
 
The president has sought to call attention to criminal justice reform, having held a series of recent meetings with representatives of law enforcement and corrections, as well as the incarcerated. Obama said that he has learned from the contacts he has made, saying  "We know that having millions of people in the criminal justice system, without any ability to find a job after release, is unsustainable. It’s bad for communities and it’s bad for our economy." He plans to visit Newark NJ next week in order to find out more about reintegration services for inmates released back to the community. 
 
While he is facing his lame duck year in office, Obama expressed hope for reform. “There’s a reason that good people across the country are coming together to reform our criminal justice system. Because it’s not about politics. It’s about whether we as a nation live up to our founding ideal of liberty and justice for all. And working together, we can make sure that we do.”
 
The connection between better education, and increased school funding, is tenuous, judging by data offered by the National Center for Education Statistics of the federal Department of Education. According to its Digest of Education Statistics, the United States spent $553 billion on K-12 public elementary and secondary Education in 2006-2007. This amounts to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product.
 
The Center for that in 2004-2005, the average per-pupil expenditure in U.S. public schools was $9,266. In other words, approximately $111,000 can be expected to be spent on a student entering the first grade in 2004 throughout his years in elementary and secondary education, if he graduates high school.
 
In 2007, the federal government spent $71.7 billion on elementary and secondary education programs, which were spent by 13 federal departments and multiple agencies. For its part, the U.S. Department of Education spent $39.2 billion on K-12 education that year. The largest programs in the department’s budget for elementary and secondary education were under the rubrics of "Education for the disadvantaged" ($14.8 billion) and "Special Education" ($11.5 billion).
 
Historical Trends
 
Even while Obama denounced “underfunded schools” as a pipeline to prison, historical trends show that spending on public education is at record levels. The average per-pupil expenditures in American public schools (1994-2004) increased by 23.5 percent. Between 1984 and 2004, real expenditures per pupil increased by 49 percent. Per-pupil expenditures in 1970-1971 ($4,060) were less than half of per-pupil expenditures in 2005-2006 ($9,266) after adjusting for inflation.
 
Between 1998 and 2008, real expenditures per student increased in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, increasing the most in Vermont (47.5 percent) and the least in Alaska(5.9 percent).
 
In 2014, Erick A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University said that the misallocation of education funds is the key to understanding the flat line levels of student achievement that have been observed since the onset of the so-called War on Poverty that began during the 1960s under President Lyndon Johnson and propagated ever since, especially by Democrats and their allies among the teacher unions. Hanusek said that when student achievement is brought into the picture that the nation has made little progress since then.
 
Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and international tests, said Hanusek, indicate that American student performance has been "pretty flat" over recent decades despite dramatic increases in K-12 spending at the federal and state levels. In addition, student performance in states spending the greatest per-pupil have not shown commensurately better progress in achievement that other states. "On average, we haven't spent the money very well," he said. "We're still missing linking spending to outcomes."
 
The education establishment was shocked this year upon the release of the so-called Nation's Report Card. Officially known as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the study found that fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States lost ground in mathematics. Released on October 28, this constituted the first such decline in scores since the feds began administering the exams in 1990. There was bad news for reading abilities, too. Scores for 8th graders dropped, and 4th graders' performance was stagnant when with 2013, the last time students took the test.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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