"Stossel is an idiot who should be fired from ABC and sent back
to elementary school to learn journalism." "Stossel is a right-wing
The hate mail is coming in to ABC over a TV special I did Friday
(1/13). I suggested that public schools had plenty of money but were
squandering it, because that's what government monopolies do.
Many such comments came in after the National Education
Association (NEA) informed its members about the special and claimed that I
have a "documented history of blatant antagonism toward public schools."
The NEA says public schools need more money. That's the refrain
heard in politicians' speeches, ballot initiatives and maybe even in your
child's own classroom. At a union demonstration, teachers carried signs that
said schools will only improve "when the schools have all the money they
need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."
Not enough money for education? It's a myth.
The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide
the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12
education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about
$10,000 per student.
Think about that! For a class of 25 kids, that's $250,000 per
classroom. This doesn't include capital costs. Couldn't you do much better
than government schools with $250,000? You could hire several good teachers;
I doubt you'd hire many bureaucrats. Government schools, like most
monopolies, squander money.
America spends more on schooling than the vast majority of
countries that outscore us on the international tests. But the bureaucrats
still blame school failure on lack of funds, and demand more money.
In 1985, some of them got their wish. Kansas City, Mo., judge
Russell Clark said the city's predominately black schools were not "halfway
decent," and he ordered the government to spend billions more. Did the
billions improve test scores? Did they hire better teachers, provide better
books? Did the students learn anything?
Well, they learned how to waste lots of money.
The bureaucrats renovated school buildings, adding enormous
gyms, an Olympic swimming pool, a robotics lab, TV studios, a zoo, a
planetarium, and a wildlife sanctuary. They added intense instruction in
foreign languages. They spent so much money that when they decided to bring
more white kids to the city's schools, they didn't have to resort to busing.
Instead, they paid for 120 taxis. Taxis!
What did spending billions more accomplish? The schools got
worse. In 2000, five years and $2 billion later, the Kansas City school
district failed 11 performance standards and lost its academic accreditation
for the first time in the district's history.
A study by two professors at the Hoover Institution a few years
ago compared public and Catholic schools in three of New York City's five
boroughs. Parochial education outperformed the nation's largest school
system "in every instance," they found and it did it at less than half
the cost per student.
"Everyone has been conned you can give public schools all the
money in America, and it will not be enough," says Ben Chavis, a former
public school principal who now runs the American Indian Charter School in
Oakland, Calif. His school spends thousands less per student than Oakland's
government-run schools spend.
Chavis saves money by having students help clean the grounds and
set up for lunch. "We don't have a full-time janitor," he told me. "We don't
have security guards. We don't have computers. We don't have a cafeteria
staff." Since Chavis took over four years ago, his school has gone from
being among the worst middle schools in Oakland to the one where the kids
get the best test scores. "I see my school as a business," he said. "And my
students are the shareholders. And the families are the shareholders. I have
to provide them with something."