Three Reasons Why More Money Does Not Translate Into Better Education

  1.  There is absolutely no guarantee that spending more money increases service quality, especially when (as is the case with public schools) there is no competition to discipline spending and ensure that it is funneled to those aspects of the service that are actually important to customers
  2. Over the last 20-30 years, administrative staffing in public schools has grown from a small percentage of the total to about half the headcount in many public school districts, and thus likely more than half the salary budget (since administrators frequently make more than teachers)
  3. Much of the increased funding is going to retired teachers who aren't actually teaching anyone

Per-student spending on K-12 education has risen steadily over the last two decades, but student test scores, and teacher salaries, are stagnant. Why hasn’t this massive increase in investment produced better teachers and better opportunity for students? The short-answer, according to a new Manhattan Institute report by Josh McGee: State and local governments have catastrophically mismanaged their teacher pension systems. The cash infusion to K-12 has been used largely to pay for irresponsible pension promises politicians made to teachers’ unions and justified to the public with shoddy accounting. . . .

In other words, to cover benefits for retirees, states need to dig into education funds that might otherwise be used to attract and retain good teachers or buy better textbooks and build new facilities. So long as state governments are unwilling to reform the blue model pension-for-life civil service system, and so long as teachers unions continue to wield outsized influence in so many state legislatures, this pattern seems likely to continue indefinitely.

Campaigns to increase spending on schools are always popular, and understandably so: Education ought to be a great equalizing force in our society and, in theory, an efficient way to invest in the future. The problem is that in many states, new “K-12 spending” isn’t really an investment so much as a transfer payment to retired employees of the public schools who have been promised untenable lifetime pension benefits.


  1. me:

    Amen. High barriers to entry and removal of teachers and administrators, lack of objective quality measurement and feedback, overregulation and competition for smart folks from outside jobs make the US education system a guaranteed, expensive and completely unnecessary failure.

    Meanwhile, the increasing cost means some folks are getting filthy rich for no benefit rendered. I wonder who exactly they are.

  2. Ruggerbunny:

    "so long as teachers unions continue to wield outsized influence in so many state legislatures"
    And this is the reason I believe public sector unions should not be allowed to vote in elections for governments that they negotiate their contracts with.

  3. sch:

    Also the explosion of central office workers, as teachers move to asst/vice principals and then into the central office. Multitude of people doing certs for federal programs, filling out forms and 'assisting teachers'. Much quieter and a lot less hassle than dealing with students,
    and the pay is a lot more. For a teacher pov:

  4. GoneWithTheWind:

    Many years ago (in the late 70's I think) the recession severely impacted the aerospace industry. One of the engineers who was displaced by this decided he could put his considerable skills and experience into teaching science and math in high schools. He began his odyssey and ran into roadblock after roadblock placed there by the unions. The bottom line is he never became a teacher and the teachers union never wanted him either.

  5. CapnRusty:

    Carry that a little further. No one who is an employee of a local, state, or federal government should be able to vote in an election for offices in that locality or state, or vote at all in federal elections. It is simply human nature for them to vote for someone who promises to pay them more. And now, such a large and growing percentage of the workforce is composed of government workers that we're reaching a critical mass. They'll vote to give themselves all of the money.

  6. SamWah:

    Their unions should not be able to donate money to politicians or to Proposition campaigns.

  7. Ann_In_Illinois:

    At universities, we have an explosion of 'diversity and inclusion' people and offices. At my university, we're all encouraged to take a series of classes (on things like talking to Hispanic women) in order to get a diversity certificate. It's optional now, but....

  8. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Not money or time. What they've often offered in the past was volunteers.

  9. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Better yet, don't allow public sector unions. Liberals claim that government, any government, is perfect, so why would government employees need a union?

  10. Ike Pigott:

    Even FDR thought that public sector unions were an awful idea.

  11. Zachriel:

    Lack of objective measures is certainly a problem, but the more fundamental problems are that education has always relied upon cheap female labor, due to the lack of other opportunities for women depressing wages; and the lack of innovation that has revolutionized other industries. Medicine and education are still largely "made by hand".

  12. jimc5499:

    Some of those "volunteers" were people on "union business" who were being paid by their school districts.

  13. GoneWithTheWind:

    Are there classes on 'talking to a caucasian woman'? If not then you are not talking about diversity but rather about institutional racism.

  14. David Halliday:

    The Cato institute has a chart that sums it up perfectly:

  15. Not Sure:

    I'm pretty sure there isn't anything that can be done to a caucasian that's considered to be racism.

  16. Ward Chartier:

    I'm reminded of the smaller of the two international primary/secondary schools in the Dublin, Ireland area. My son attended for two years. The student body comprised about 600 students. There were exactly three administrators: the head of school, the bursar, and a secretary. In contrast, the international school my son attended on the outskirts of London, UK also had about 600 students, but the administrative staff was much larger, including a director of admissions and an assistant director of admissions. The school in Ireland was able to deliver an outstanding education without a large administrative staff. A parent and taxpayer has to ask what real benefit comes from having a battalion of administrators in a school or school district.

  17. mesaeconoguy:

    Yep, public sector unions need to be outlawed.

    The overt conflict is too great, and the effects of them can be seen in events like the WI teachers unions going after Scott Walker.

  18. rxc:

    From the Progressive viewpoint, however, more money spent on education is money very well spent. It creates all sorts of high-paying, tenured positions in education where they can park supporters who will "give back" some of those salaries to progressive causes. It allows them to staff educational systems with people who believe in their cause and will pass those beliefs along to children. It allows them to take control of the society.

  19. BobSykes:

    The unions are not the problem, although they are a problem. The main obstacle to effective education is low IQ. The average IQ of blacks and hispanics is around 85, one full standard deviation below the white average of 100. In the inner city slums, the average black IQ is in the 70's, almost two standard deviations below the white average. People with IQ's below 80 or 85 are by and large uneducable, at least in any academic sense, although they are trainable to do manual labor of many kinds. Unfortunately, various Ruling Class policies, while they clearly benefit the Ruling Class, have destroyed the working class economy, and low IQ people are, of necessity, parasites on the state.,

  20. CC:

    It is easy to speed up learning with self-directed, computer-aided tools. BUT: these things are disruptive and require some trust of the students. The authoritarian urge to make all the kids sit still is almost irresistable for the teachers. With them all sitting still, the only method open is lecturing them all at the same pace.

  21. markm:

    A friend of my parents' made that transition from aerospace engineer to high school teacher in the late 60's. I didn't hear of it being that difficult for him. It's possible that credentialism increased that much in just a decade, but I suspect the main difference is that he moved from Seattle to the tiny village of Arcadia, Michigan.