Pity The Poor Public Schools' Treatment in the Stimulus Bill


One of the supposed tragedies coming out of the stimulus "compromise" was the cutting of $20 billion specifically earmarked for K-12 school renovation (because, really, a world-class country can't have enough state of the art media labs and football stadiums, not to mention cutting-edge ripple tanks, fetal pigs, and other lab equipment necessary to perform vital experiments by 16 year olds).

Fear not if you like the inevitable cost overruns associated with public construction projects. There's still a whopping $10 billion in the legislation for school construction and renovation, on top of $80 billion in new spending for K-12 costs.

One question that is rarely raised by proponents of new and improved increased spending is how to do things in a more efficient and productive way. As Reason Foundation education researcher Lisa Snell has noted, educrats are really good at spending more but show almost total resistance to spending smart.

Consider these trend lines regarding capital outlays for K-12 education, all expressed in constant 2005 dollars. For school year 1990-91, capital outlays came to 19.7 billion dollars. For 2004-05, the total was 53.5 billion. That's a big increase, for sure, about 2.7 times. (I'm using these numbers because they were most readily available; I'm confident that the general trend is representative).

Over the same period, student enrollments increased by only 7 million students (from 42 million to 49 million) or about 1.16 times.

So file this in your future scandal folder: After two years of a new, federally enhanced building spree, schools will still be bitching and moaning about how what they really need to improve is…more funding for new buildings.