Government Education Spending Hurts More Than It Helps

By Isaiah Minter | United States

Public school teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have spent the last month striking for higher wages and better health care. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with this if the students weren’t caught in the crossfire. But they are. While the students are deprived of vital schooling days, they are certainly not deprived of attention: to teachers and progressive politicians alike, the students are political ammunition designed to sway Republican politicians.

I loathe this routine of exploiting groups to achieve desired political outcomes, for it absolutely does more harm than good. However well-intentioned political actions may be, they often harm groups otherwise not involved with the issue at hand.

Nevertheless, whatever one’s opinion on the teacher strikes, it must be made clear that we do not need to deprive our children of schooling to achieve the desired goal. Teachers, like the children they educate, are both victims of the same disease: the bureaucracy of American education. Thus, to deliver a ‘living wage’ to teachers as progressives so often call it, we must do away with the band-aid approach of increased education spending and instead target the institution.

Indeed, most of the dollars in school spending hikes seldom ever reach the classroom. Dating back to 1950, public school administrative positions increased at seven times the rate of the student population and double that of teachers. This trend may explain why, despite an immense increase in public school spending over the last five decades, American education pails in comparison to the developed world.

Similarly, teacher wages fell roughly 2 percent over the same span that per-student spending rose by nearly 30 percent. Perhaps the starkest figure lies in the wide disparity between taxpayer spending on teachers and teacher salaries: Oklahoma taxpayers spend over $120,000 per teacher, and yet the average Oklahoma teacher salary is around $45,000 based on 2016 numbers.

The evidence suggests that the issue is not a lack of resources, but a lack of proper resource allocation. In flooding the system with administrators and non-education positions, we have allowed the ruthless imposition of regulations that siphon money into the bureaucracy and away from the schools that need it. For all the talk on greed in the private sector, people seldom ever concern themselves with it when it surfaces in the public sector.

Teachers’ unions and bureaucracy have American education in a chokehold, and if we are serious about supporting our teachers while delivering a quality education to our children, we need to remove the federal government from the issue altogether. There is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to be involved in education, and our abandonment of the 10th Amendment on this issue has plagued our schooling system for the last five decades. As a clear example:

The American Action Forum (AAF) found that the Department of Education currently imposes 85 million hours of paperwork, and more than 465 federal education forms, including 120 in postsecondary education, at a cost of more than $2.7 billion annually.

By removing the federal government from the issue, we would decentralize and deregulate the education system. This approach of turning education over to the states and promoting school choice through voucher systems would, in turn, promote parental responsibility in the schooling of their child.

The outlined approach contrasts heavily with our current system where we have, in effect, replaced the parent with the state employee and the local community with the federal government. Hardly then should it come as a surprise that education has deteriorated to the extent it has. Washington does not pay any price for being wrong.

It is not the Washington politician who suffers when school administrators saturate their pockets from school spending hikes, nor when teachers go on strike as a result. Instead, our students and teachers pay the price.

It always amazes me how government can be responsible for the disastrous results of a system – education in this case – but we nonetheless demand that this same institution fix the very issue it is responsible for. As this approach seldom proves effective, it is time for an approach of less government power and more market freedom.

For a more elaborate examination of the American education system, I strongly recommend Inside American Education by Thoms Sowell.

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