Short review of the report "Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go?", Marguerite Roza, Center on Reinventing Public Education Urban Institute Press, 2010
Il mistero dei fondi d’istituto
Imagine if a school were to spend more per pupil on ceramics electives than core science classes. What if a district were to push more funding to wealthy neighborhoods than to impoverished ones? Such policies would provoke outrage. Yet these schools and districts are real.
Today’s taxpayers spend almost $9,000 per pupil, roughly double what they spent 30 years ago, and educational achievement doesn’t seem to be improving. With the movement toward holding schools and districts accountable for student outcomes, we might think that officials can precisely track how much they are spending per student, per program, per school. But considering the patchwork that is school finance—federal block funding, foundation grants, earmarks, set-asides, and union mandates—funds can easily be diverted from where they are most needed.
Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? examines education finance from the school’s vantage point, explaining how the varied funding streams can prevent schools from delivering academic services that mesh with their stated priorities. As government budgets shrink, linking expenditures to student outcomes will be imperative. Educational Economics offers concrete prescriptions for reform.
This short book is an essential primer on the fundamental and systemic problems in education funding, drawing from CRPE’s own research and other important sources. One is reminded how the complexities, multiple layers, and many actors in schooling cause a half trillion dollars spent annually on K-12 education to flow in perverse and sometimes surprising ways. Some of these problems start with districts—CRPE, for example, found school-to-school spending differences in one district of a whopping $14,000 per student, and in another district, a principal who controlled just $4,000 of her school’s entire budget. And yet districts are also at the mercy of state and federal constraints, while teacher contracts layer on even more rigidities and perversions. The authors report that 54 percent of teacher salaries support "automatic wage increases for longevity," and health benefits outpace those in comparable fields by $1,900 per teacher. The sum of it all is a "wicked problem," a phrase drawn from social planning literature (not from New England slang), wherein budgets act like a "house of cards, and any effort to dismantle or overhaul one piece will always require a new prop." To top all of this off, districts operate in a black financial box; they have no idea what anything costs, and wind up "flying blind" on financial decisions. The most fundamental paradox might lie in how to solve these wicked problems: To hedge against the unintended consequences of budgetary change, we might choose incremental, cautious solutions, but the depth and tragedy of these school funding flaws cry for a more radical approach, even for starting over. For highlighting this challenge, and for its accessible approach to a complicated but unavoidable topic, this book deserves spots on every ed reformer’s bookshelf and every school finance professor’s classroom.