Does the United States spend enough on education? Many messages in the media and from Capitol Hill would suggest that there is a dearth of taxpayer dollars spent on American education today and that if the U.S. can only spend more, student achievement will flourish.
However, years of increased spending have led only to bigger budgets and bloated bureaucracy—not improved student achievement—and have similarly failed to empower those with the greatest stake in a child’s education: the family.
Research shows that families play a large role in a child’s educational success. Yet for decades, policies have focused on pouring more money into a broken education system and into the hands of bureaucrats rather than on empowering parents and children.
Thus, despite ever-increasing education dollars flowing from the Department of Education (DOE) since the 1970s, test scores remain virtually unchanged. Federal spending has nearly tripled, while at the same time achievement has stagnated and graduation rates have hardly budged.
That’s no to say that federal spending on education has had no impact. With increased government dollars, schools have seen a substantial growth in federal red tape, paperwork, and administrative costs. And the DOE’s budget has ballooned, along with its staff. Today, there are over 4,000 employees at the DOE making on average an annual salary of over $100,000 each.
On the other hand, reform-minded states around the nation are implementing practices that take into account the crucial role parents play in a child’s education. Not surprisingly, these practices are leading to student achievement and increased parental satisfaction. For example, in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides scholarships of $7,500 to low-income students, allowing families to choose private schools that best fit their children’s needs. Children in this program are significantly more likely to graduate from high school—91 percent compared to 70 percent of their peers—and trends indicate increases in reading scores.
Parents are also significantly happier with their children’s schools. Florida has similarly been a champion of empowering families through school reform by allowing public school choice for students in low-performing schools, providing private-school choice for low-income children and grading schools on an A–F scale, which allows parents to know how well their children’s schools are performing. And Florida’s students are thriving. Reading scores are soaring and the racial achievement gap is narrowing.
President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget would increase education spending even further. Yet years of data indicate that such action is likely to do little for students and families while creating a greater tangle of bureaucracy and burden for schools.
Instead of increasing Washington’s power, policies that empower families should be expanded, opening the doors of educational opportunity for more children around the nation.
To learn more about the role of the family and religious practice in maintaining limited government and civil society in America, visit FamilyFacts.org.