Government Spending

How Much Will Obama Spend to Replace the 1 Percent of Schools That Principals Say Are Actually Falling Apart?


From Obama's speech last night, a pledge to spend a lot of money building or rebuilding K-12 schools:

There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating.  How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?  This is America.  Every child deserves a great school – and we can give it to them, if we act now. 

The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools.  It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows; installing science labs and high-speed internet in classrooms all across this country.

Which raises the question: What's been going on for the past few years on that score? Are the nation's learning centers being starved by the local and state governments that traditionally service them?

Here's a chart from a group called the 21st Century School Fund. This covers not just capital outlays for new construction and acquisitions over the past several years but also "major renovation" projects. Elsewhere, the same group writes that the long-term debt for state and local governments related to school construction costs was $369 billion at the end of 2008. Capital costs for construction don't include equipment costs, by the way, which would drive the numbers higher still. Currently local governments pony up about 77 73 percent of the costs and states cover 33 27 percent.

Obama's pledge to bring federal dollars to the K-12 construction business is not exactly unprecendented: His 2009 stimulus committed about $870 million toward that end, much of it going through the Departments of Defense (for schools on military bases) and Interior (for schools on Indian reservations).

Is almost $60 billion a year on new schools and rehabbing old ones not enough to cover the needs of about 55 million K-12 students in about 133,000 individual facilities spread over about 14,000 school districts? In 2005, the Dept. of Education asked K-12 principals to "describe the extent to which various environmental factors interfered with classroom instruction condition of their facilities." Here's the summarized response: 

A majority of schools, 56 percent, reported that various environmental factors, taken together, did not interfere at all with the delivery of instruction in permanent buildings, while the remainder reported at least some interference: 33 percent reported minor interference, 9 percent reported moderate interference, while only 1 percent reported major interference.

The comparable aggregate figure for major interference at portable buildings came in at 2 percent.

Obama didn't say exactly how much the feds would be bringing to the table or how it would be disbursed. But if Obama is pledging to help 35,000 schools, then he's looking to push cash toward 26 percent of existing school buildings, far above the percentage named by principals as presenting serious problems in terms of educating kids.

And if patterns of previous stimulus spending and increases in education funding yielding no improvements in student outcomes are any indication, any federal dollars will be more money down the drain, both in terms of creating jobs and fixing roofs.


NEXT: Remembering 9/11: The Politics of Dead Children, The Antiwar Right, Killing Bin Laden

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  1. where i live, the entire school system is being rebuilt using tobacco settlement money fm the state combined w a local match approved by voters. >dats alotta [JOBZ] which pay well & cant be exported.

    1. Ever heard of telepresence? Or India?

    2. Gee, Orrin, I thought the tobacco settlement was supposed to compensate states for all the Medicaid money they spent on treating lung cancer.

      So, let’s see, first they spent all the tobacco tax money, which was more than enough to cover the Medicaid used by smokers, (hell it was enough to pay to for every every lung cancer case) on everything else but healthcare.

      Then, they do this bogus lawsuit claiming the tobacco industry owes them for all the lung cancer cases (that they already gotten more than enough tobacco tax money to pay for) and won a gazillion dollar payout.

      So, are they using that money to pay for smoking related illness. No, they’re spending it on schools.

      So, what did the thieves and liars that run your town spend the school money on, OO? Booze and hookers?

      WTF, even if I did believe that the state/county/city needed to provide these things, I’d sure as hell want them managed by people that are more competent that these clowns.

      Trouble is, people that are competent to be managers can see that the welfare state is promising way more than it can deliver and stay away from it.

      1. the local school district doesnt collect tobacco taxes.

        1. Apparently you are really really stupid.

          Because if you weren’t it would have been obvious that “school money” meant local taxes to pay for schools.

          As usual you’re not going to answer any of the questions. So let’s try again.

          If your state politicians aren’t mendacious hacks why is the tobacco settlement money not being used by the state for Medicaid? You know, that thing that they said they needed the money for. And what did they do with the original tax money? You know the tax money they collected after they justified imposing big taxes on tobacco by claiming they had to pay for the health costs caused by tobacco use.

          And if your local politicians aren’t incompetent buffoons why can’t they manage the local school district’s finances so that they have enough money to maintain their schools.

    3. Construction and teachers–good unionized, Democrat-voting jobs. Let me be clear–those are the only kind of jobs that matter.

    4. holy fuck im such a big idiotic retarded bag of fuck sometimes even i cant believe it

      1. spoof fail ! ree-tardz isnt pc.

  2. 77% + 33% = 110%, not unprecedented spending by any means, but probably an article mistake.

    1. Hey, if Pete Rose could give 110%, why can’t Reason?

  3. It’s a bait and switch, of course. First the bait: our schools are “literally falling apart,” then the switch, which is not to rebuild crumbling schhols but to “modernize” them by “installing science labs and high-speed internet.”

    1. It’s absolutely absurd what they spend money on these days. One program gives high school kids Kindles, another laptops. The auditorium at my kids’ high school looks like a professional concert hall. Administrator salaries are ridiculous for the services they provide. Etc.

      It’s not lack of money that’s the problem.

      1. Well, let’s not get bogged down in micromanagement. Just give the money to the schoolz & let them spend it however the deem prudent. I hear educator pensions are dangerously underfunded. I mean, what kind of insane world pays an NBA star 20 million dollars per year while a heroic, altruistic teacher with a masters degree in education and a certification to counsel ADHD victims only gets $130,000 (benefits included)?

        1. In all seriousness, I wonder what average teacher pay would be in a market-based educational system? I imagine that really coveted teachers could be pulling in some nice change. On the other hand, people with Education degrees and nothing much else might be unemployed.

          And private teacher pay today doesn’t count, because private schools are a tiny, tiny slice of K-12 education.

        2. Teachers get shitty pay!

          MATT DAMON!

    2. No, they need office space for the additional administrators. These poor people have to double-up in offices! Overcrowding!!

  4. Go DAVIS!

    Go BACON!


  5. The kids who will soon be able to get upskirt sexts in real time place a high value on high speed internet in schools.

  6. Surprise. Obama wants to dole out more federal money to benefit the public sector & their connected union-contractors.

    And it must be done immediately without any scrutiny or else politicians are being ‘irresponsible’

    I vaguely seem to remember an idea like this being floated before, only it was about ‘greening up’ federal buildings, making them more energy efficient & stuff.

    That one worked out huge. Why wouldn’t this work as well?

  7. Go back to the Greek model for schools: sit around outside on the steps and talk with the teacher. No principals required. No separate building required.

    1. Lots of pederasty and buggary though.

      1. Lots of pederasty and buggary though.


  8. no one wants to answer this: what has happened to gas tax revenues, which every state and the feds receive, and which are to be used for streets, bridges, etc? If there is an infrastructure problem, then there has been epic malfeasance by every state DOT, the federal dept, and municipal streets/roads depts.

    The infrastructure talking point is repeated like the one on health care and man-made climate change – it is agenda-driven item whose supporters believe that sheer repetition can turn their opinion into fact.

    1. Gas tax revenues have fallen short of covering road construction and maintenance costs for some time now, even when you allow for the fifteen percent or so that’s siphoned off for mass transit and the ten percent or so for bike trails etc.

      At this point only about sixty percent of road construction and maintenance costs are covered by the fuel tax.

      1. At this point only about sixty percent of road construction and maintenance costs are covered by the fuel tax.

        How about if we were to use non-union labor? And factor in what the states take as well as the feds?

        1. There is no requirement to use union labor on road contracts.

          You are possibly thinking of Davis-Bacon the federal law that requires contractors on federal and federally aided projects to pay the prevailing wage which is defined as “is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area.”

          In highly unionized areas, the prevailing wage will tend to be the union wage for each trade, but in less unionized areas, it will tend to be lower.

        2. But, yes, it is true that Davis-Bacon does tend to increase construction costs.

      2. I’ll just point out that the estimate of what is needed for road construction and maintenance is created by people with incentives to make the number as high as possible. Those damn civil engineers who work for consultants and contractors who will get the work when the gas tax is increased. If a fucking new bridge is needed between ohio and kentucky, then let those fucking still sucking rednecks pay for it themselves. Or are they too stupid to know that the bridge they already have which has been adequate for decades needs to be replaced? As far as only 60% of the contruction and maintenance costs being covered by the fuel tax, of which 25% is being siphoned off, you could raise the 60% to 80% by stopping the fucking granola loving perverts in the mass transit, bike trail lobby from taking the gas tax. Then when you are 80% of an inflated number created by those sons of bitches engineers, you actually have pretty close to what you need already. There, solved.

        1. You do realize that road building contracts are awarded to the contractor who submits the lowest price in a competitive bidding process.

          Prices are about as low as they can get.

          And you’ll get no argument from me the the fuel tax should be dedicated to road construction. If local governments want to add bike lanes and sidewalks they need to be paid for out of general revenue or some other tax.

          And, yes, if mass transit needs a subsidy, they need to find some other tax source for it too.

          1. You do realize that with federal money attached to road construction, that prevailing wage, spec books about an inch thick, sometimes projects designed by in house government employess, or if designed by outside consultants, frivolously over expensive, inspection requirements up the ying yang and all the other sort of public works bullshit added to the real cost of building a fricking road. A private developer building the same road in one of their developments pays about 70% of the what a public agency pays for the equivalent product. Competitive bidding yes, but in the public works sense, not in the sense of the non taxpayer competitive bidding world. Been there, done that, many times.

            1. Your arguments are good ones for why the government shouldn’t be in the rods business at all, not that the government should be building roads a different way.

              I have criticized federal aid in many other places and it was not the topic here so I didn’t talk about it.

              You haven’t been around any major private construction projects if you don’t know that “spec books about an inch thick*,….inspection requirements up the ying yang” are a feature in private industry as well.

              Engineers and architects write specifications to specify exactly what their clients want to get. They exhaustively inspect the work of contractors to make sure their clients are getting what they are paying for.

              One minute everyone’s complaining that the roadzzz cost too much, the next they’re saying “OMG, teh roads are full of potholezz.”

              As for “A private developer building the same road in one of their developments pays about 70% of the what a public agency pays for the equivalent product”, this is only true if one considers the total cost of the project including administration and right-of-way aquizition (developers already own the land they are building on so the cost of acquiring it is accounted for elsewhere). And the private developer uses the spec book furnished by the local government and whatever inspection shortcomings are assumed by the local government when the road is turned over to it.

              I’ve been in the construction and engineering industry for over forty years and I can tell you the unit prices the contractors I worked for charged public customers were equal to or lower (usually because of project size) than those charged to private ones.

              *A spec book “an inch thick” is pretty slim, actually. The ones at Epcot, for example, (you know, that place built by that huge private concern) were several volumes of 2 to 3 inches thick.

  9. A few q’s:

    1) what’s the correlation between school performance and capital spending as a % of overall spend?

    2) how does that correlation compare to correlations between school performance and length of school day, degree of parental involvement, teachers’ undergraduate class ranking/educational attainment in non-Education subjects and other “soft” factors?

    3) how much improvement in performance could be expected if, instead of spending on capex, the schools were given incentives to reduce the bottom 5% of teachers and reallocate the savings into monetary rewards/incentives for the top 10% of teachers?

    1. 1) what’s the correlation between school performance and capital spending as a % of overall spend?

      Poor – there are somewhat rural districts that spend relatively little and get good results, and urban districts like Newark, NJ, that spend massive amounts and get terrible results.

      2) how does that correlation compare to correlations between school performance and length of school day, degree of parental involvement, teachers’ undergraduate class ranking/educational attainment in non-Education subjects and other “soft” factors?

      The biggest predictor of educational achievement is parental involvement and commitment. The other factors weigh in, but parental involvement has the most effect.

      3) how much improvement in performance could be expected if, instead of spending on capex, the schools were given incentives to reduce the bottom 5% of teachers and reallocate the savings into monetary rewards/incentives for the top 10% of teachers?

      Don’t know, but why not give it a try? Makes more sense then spending bazillions on new stuff and administrators.

      1. 1) It’s poor because we aren;t spending enough to make a difference.

        2) Parental involvement has the greatest effect only because we aren’t spending enough to make it not be the greatest effect.

        3) The top 10% of teachers can’t teach everybody. This is why merit pay is such a bad idea.

  10. America’s Gov’t School Monopoly = teachers that can’t or won’t teach and Principal’s that can’t or won’t maintain the buildings that are in their care.

  11. Will there be a .gov website that allows me to track this spending down to the dollar? Because I love those.

  12. I have come to detest public schools more and more. They burn through massive amounts of money to produce shitty results, they are full of public sector union workers waiting around to get tenure/seniority so they can wait around to collect their pensions, they give MATT DAMON-style retards something to get all fucking choked up about, and if you want to do the smart thing and send your kid to private school? They steal your money anyways. (Perhaps worse, they steal your money even if you don’t have and never will have kids.) Fuck public schools, fuck Obama, and fuck this fucking jobs bill bullshit.

    1. Indeed. And I think the existence of ubiquitous public schools hurts private schools, too.

      1. I LOVE the private/public school arrangement, despite the fact that I HATE having to pay thousands of dollars a year in addition to the private school tuition for my kid(s).

        It lets me know up which parents actually value education, and those who only say they do.

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