NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do We Really Need to Spend More on Schools?

August 9, 2011

Even as the president was signing the debt-limit bill designed to cut spending last week, he insisted on continuing "to keep making key investments in things like education."  Don't be surprised if the president and his allies reiterate this call for more spending in the nation's schools, which they argue is necessary if our students are to remain competitive, says Paul E. Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

At first glance, the public seems to agree with this position.

  • In a survey released by Education Next, Peterson and his colleagues found 65 percent of the public said they want to spend more on our schools.
  • The remaining 35 percent think spending should either be cut or remain at current levels.

Yet the political reality is more complex than those numbers suggest.  When the people surveyed were told how much is actually spent in our schools -- $12,922 per student annually, according to the most recent government report -- then only 49 percent said they want to pony up more dollars.

Later in the same survey, Peterson et al. asked, "Do you think that taxes to fund public schools around the nation should increase, decrease or stay about the same?"

  • When asked about spending in this way, which addresses the tax issue frankly, Peterson et al. found that only 35 percent support an increase.
  • Sixty-five percent oppose the idea, saying instead that spending should either decrease or stay about the same.

So there is the nation's debt crisis in a nutshell.  If people aren't told that nearly $13,000 is currently being spent per pupil, or if they aren't reminded that there is no such thing as a free lunch, they can be persuaded to think schools should be spending still more, says Peterson.

Source: Paul E. Peterson, "Do We Really Need to Spend More on Schools?" Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2011.  William Howell, Martin West and Paul E. Peterson, "The 2011 Education Next-PEPG Survey," EducationNext, Fall 2011.

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