Overstimulating K-12

Education spending

The final version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—a.k.a. “the stimulus bill”—called for allocating about $115 billion for K–12 education. This will come on top of the approximately $60 billion a year that the federal government already spends on education in the United States. Time to get ready for the largest transfer of funds from the federal government to local schools in U.S. history.

But don’t expect much stimulation. The new funding will not create jobs or otherwise give the economy a jolt. The biggest chunk of the education “stimulus” will be a block grant to cover current operational costs for local school districts, an expenditure unlikely to spark economic growth. Basically, governors want the stimulus dollars to pay for their current school budgets. For example, New York’s Democratic Gov. David Paterson is counting on $6.4 billion in help for teacher salaries and other expenses during the next two years.

The subsidies are also unlikely to improve academic achievement. In the last three decades, the United States has doubled per-pupil spending in real dollars. Yet outcomes for students at the end of their public education career have not kept pace with these large-scale investments. The average reading and math scores for 17-yearolds on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s benchmark for student achievement, are no better today than they were in 1971, and U.S. graduation rates are lower today than in that year. 

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