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No Bang for the Buck

from the magazine

No Bang for the Buck

Spring 1998
Economy, finance, and budgets
Education
Politics and law

We've heard the story how many times now? Just give us more money and more teachers and better facilities, the public school teachers' unions plead, and decades of educational failure will turn around. As Congress mulls over a multi-billion-dollar White House proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers, build or repair thousands of schools, and increase spending on other educational programs, it should weigh heavily the results of a major report showing that money has nothing to do with our schools' problems.


Sponsored by the Cato Institute, education writer Paul Ciotti's study takes a hard look at Kansas City's 12-year, court-ordered public school desegregation experiment, which recently ended in humiliating failure. Federal Judge Russell Clark had partially taken over Kansas City's schools in 1985. Just tell me what's necessary for our kids to excel, Clark told the schools, and I'll order taxpayers to pay for it.


Kansas City's schools got what they wanted. In the years that followed, the town spent upwards of $11,700 per pupil, more than any other large district in the country, once we adjust for cost-of-living differences. The city's public schools soon enjoyed fatter teachers' salaries and more teachers—the student-teacher ratio fell to 13 to 1, the lowest of any major district in the U.S. Fifteen new schools went up. Everything the teachers' unions could ever ask for, Judge Clark made taxpayers supply, to the tune of $2 billion over the 12 years.


Did students' test scores improve? Did the gap between white and black test scores close? Did integration increase? Much to the discomfiture of the public schools and Judge Clark, the answers are conclusive: no, no, and no. "The results were dismal," Ciotti sums up. The situation in Kansas City, he adds, is a major setback for supporters of increased public school funding.


And an important new argument for school choice. For if Kansas City shows that throwing money at the public schools does nothing to improve their students' performance, the high achievements of students attending many money-starved inner-city private schools show that success—even without ample funding—is well within reach. How much longer do we have to listen to the public school educrats' tired refrain before we say enough is enough?

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