(Page 2 of 2)
But that's close to being accomplished. The 2007 report "Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2005" that in the fall of 2005 nearly 100 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet. In 2005, 97 percent of public schools had high-speed broadband, with a ratio of 3.8 students per 1 computer with Internet access.
Billions have already been spent through the federal "E-Rate" program to give students Internet access. Like most large-scale government giveaways, the federal E-rate program, which collects $2.5 billion a year in telephone taxes to hook up schools and libraries to the Internet, has produced a huge amount of waste.
Puerto Rico has spent $101 million in federal grants to wire 1,500 public schools for Internet access. Yet the island-wide school district warehoused most of the equipment for more than three years, and only nine schools were actually connected to the Internet. The Chicago public schools have more than $5 million in E-rate computer equipment sitting in a warehouse. In San Francisco, school officials discovered that a $68 million project should have cost less than $18 million.
A huge new federal investment in broadband technology will likely do little to expand broadband access while opening up the potential for even more waste and incompetence. More money for Internet access is a duplicative funding stream to solve a non-problem.
The House version of the education stimulus package includes $2.1 billion for Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor children, and $2 billion for additional child care grants. But how will students be helped or what will taxpayers get for the money?
Consider Oklahoma, a state that has spent millions implementing universal preschool. Oklahoma's fourth-grade NAEP reading score in 1998, when it adopted universal preschool, was 219—six points above the national average. Last year, it had dropped to 217—three points below the national average. Similarly, Oklahoma's fourth-grade NAEP math score was on par with the national average in 2000. Last year, it had dropped two points below. Since employing universal preschool, not only is Oklahoma doing worse compared with the nation, but also its own prior performance.
It's also important to note that 70 percent of 4-year-olds are
already enrolled in preschool. States with government-run universal
preschool programs also enroll about 70 percent of students, so it
is not clear how many more kids the stimulus will result in
Education Bailout Should Revolutionize Public Schools
The bottom line is that more than $147 billion in federal "education stimulus" will prolong the dysfunctional qualities of the United States education system. It is one of the most expensive and most mediocre K-12 systems in the world. Throwing more money at public schools without addressing the problems inherent in the system—lack of accountability and lack of competition—will simply drive up education costs with little to show for the money.
The best outcome would be to avoid a federal education bailout altogether. However, if an education stimulus is inevitable, it should at least demand some concessions from the education establishment before doling out $120 billion.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Only give money to school districts whose labor unions agree to "flat contracts" that offer flexible employee practices such as firing for "just cause" and are willing to suspend seniority and tenure in exchange for merit-pay.
- Only give money to school districts that will report transparent budget numbers at the "school level" so parents and taxpayers can see how much money a school spends on education in real dollars and not district averages. It is important to know how much money is siphoned off at district offices and for administrative costs—and how much money actually makes it into the classroom.
- Prioritize money for, or give incentives to, districts that attach per-pupil funding to the backs of children, letting parents choose the public school (or dare I say charter or private school) that best suits their child.
If the government is going to give the money away anyway, it
might as well empower parents and teachers rather than the status
quo, which is failing miserably.
Lisa Snell is director of education at Reason Foundation. An archive of her work is here. Reason Foundation's education research is here. This article originally appeared at Reason.org.