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Is More Money The Answer For Education’s Problems?

Idaho is very competitive with Wyoming and Montana and is often ahead on scores like SAT and others

More Money The Answer

Is More Money The Answer For Education’s Problems?

By Bob Shillingstad

We have seen education come to the forefront in Idaho’s political debate.  First, with the passage of additional mill levies and bond issues.  Second, we have the “special session” of the legislature recently that was called by the Governor to give even more money to schools.  Will we be able to divert that money to the regular budget with no increase? The rhetoric is like a drum beat that never changes.  “Idaho is down at the bottom in per pupil spending and it is a disgrace.”  “Invest in the children” and “They are the future.”  Tiresome and meaningless.

According to the numbers they report, Idaho is at the bottom and Wyoming spends twice as much as Idaho.  Montana spends 50% more, according to their numbers.  However, when you look at testing measurements across the board, Idaho is very competitive with Wyoming and Montana and is often ahead on scores like SAT and others. 

But then we are told unlimited money would solve all our problems in education and they don’t pay any attention to the results seen in most charter and private schools!   They certainly don’t compare government schools to home schooling! The secret is evident: competition for government schools reveals their failures.

I would invite you to go back to 1985 and look at a Federal Court Case, Missouri v. Jenkins. ( This case is eye-opening.  A federal judge took over the school district in Kansas City, Missouri to provide “equity” and between 1985  and 2003, more than $2 billion dollars was spent building over a dozen first-class schools. Magnet schools centered around a “theme”.  Not merely science,  performing arts, and computer studies, but also classical Greek, Asian studies, agribusiness, and environmental studies.

The newly constructed classical Greek high school housed an Olympic-sized pool with an underwater observation room.  There was an indoor track, a gymnastic center, racquetball courts and even television and animation studios. There was a robotics lab, a 25‐acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability and field trips to Mexico and Senegal were part of the package.. The student‐teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country. 

Wow! What were the results of all that spending? Test scores actually dropped and parents were not happy.

What then is the recipe for a quality educational system that ends up with a great product? We know that parental engagement with children is vital and they are the key to success. As Linda State relates in her blog, “Only parents know the rhythms and subtleties of their child. You know their boundaries, their fears and the social and emotional factors that will impact learning. They’re the things a teacher of 30 students who sees them 4 hours a week could never know. Essentially, the parent engagement movement is a mind shift. It’s a move towards a stronger relationship between school and family, valuing the skills and knowledge each party has to offer.” 

That is some important wisdom but many school boards, administrators and teachers treat parents as interlopers who don’t understand education.  Parents need a place at the table that is more important than the teachers’ union. A school board and administration should be in control of the school district with policies and decisions made by them and not the teachers’ union.  We know that having a qualified teacher in the classroom as regularly as possible is critical.  As you read the labor agreement that your school has there seems to be a disconnect.  

Most teachers have a calling to be in this profession and want to do the right thing.  We don’t need to tie their hands to a false narrative that is schools vs. parents. The bottom line and the point of this column is that no amount of spending is going to give us success in education.  Competition has worked.  Home schooling, charter schools and private schools have had remarkable success and show it in many ways. 

A move towards vouchers and away from bureaucracy and larger systems is a first step. Getting back to basics and a love of our founding principles needs to be our direction.  Tell your school and legislators to apply common sense to education, more money is not the answer. Choice is.


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