Trying to Eliminate the Education Waste

In my role, I receive a lot of press releases. And many come from Washington, D.C., in the form of comments from our representatives and senators on legislation/news of the day and other worldly developments.

The obligatory "congratulations on killing Osama bin Laden but the terrorist threat is not over" doesn’t generate a great deal of personal interest. But one I received yesterday from Rep. Todd Rokita (R-5th District) about his role on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was noteworthy — primarily because of the multitude of federal dollars being wasted.

As the congressman said:

Today the House Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up H.R. 1891, the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act, legislation to eliminate 40 ineffective or duplicative programs from the Department of Education. 
“The fact that 40 of the 80 authorized programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education law are ineffective or duplicative is evidence that there are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of programs across the federal government that need to justify their continuation or be eliminated,” Rokita said. 
Despite the federal takeover of education and the tripling of funding since 1964, academic performance has remained stagnant, graduation rates have not improved, and American students lag far behind students of other nations in math and science.  For decades, Washington’s involvement has done nothing to improve education, but has contributed to our fiscal crisis.  
“Given the grave fiscal crisis our country faces, it is time we looked long and hard at the effectiveness of government programs across the board, including in education.  Identifying and eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs is a positive first step on a long road to reducing the out-of-control federal spending that is bankrupting our country,” Rokita said.

Education Dollars Not Finding the Classroom

For the three hundred and twenty-three thousandth time (or so), it’s not the total amount of education dollars provided — it’s how the dollars are spent.

The latest evidence comes from California. Yes, we can learn from the Golden State. Pepperdine University did the research on five-year spending at more than 950 public school districts. The key result:

Between 2003-2004 and 2008-2009, total school spending per capita (not including capital spending) increased by 24.9%. This, of course, was far greater than the growth in per capita personal income or inflation. Direct classroom expenditures, however, declined from 59% to 57.8%.

Statewide expenditures for teacher salaries and benefits (obviously by far the biggest part of the direct classroom mix) declined from 50% to 48%. The question is where did the more than 42% of dollars go that were spent outside the classroom?

The president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education noted, "It is intriguing to contemplate the lost opportunities this study brings to light. If California had the extra $1.7 billion that went outside the classroom, we might have been able to hire more than 21,000 teachers statewide."