The School Spending Dilemma

Ainsley Slusher-Honorbound

It is no secret that higher education can lead to increased potential for not only the individual, but for the economy as well.  In fact, Naked Economics author Charles Wheelan states: “If I were to poll one hundred economists, nearly every one of them would tell me that significantly improving primary and secondary education in this country would lead to large economic gains.  But the same group would be divided over whether or not we should spend more money on public education.”[1]  Similarly, a recent report posted to the Economic Policy Institute website shows that providing greater access to high quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for residents, but also strengthen the overall state economy.[2]  This begs the question: would pouring more money into the already existing school system result in greater educational and economical gains?

The theory that increasing spending per student leads to greater achievement was tested in Camden, New Jersey in the late 1990s.  Today, one of the school districts in Camden is spending roughly $23,000 per student this year and while schools have improved, student performance is still abysmal.[3]  The problem behind this district may not lay in the spending per child, but in the fact that nearly half of the students are currently living in poverty and addressing the symptoms of poverty costs the schools more money.[4]  Unlike Camden, there are some places where extra money has made a difference, such as Goshen, Indiana.  A majority of Goshen’s students are Latino and dependent on the English Language (EL) program which provides teachers, teaching assistants, and counselors.  The EL program costs nearly $9 million dollars to run and allows students the opportunity to feel more comfortable participating in English class, therefore causing them to perform better and raise the district’s test scores.[5]

In the eyes of ex-governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, “A good education in a safe environment is the magic wand that brings opportunity.  It’s up to us to make sure that wand is waved over every cradle.”[6]  For many states, that magic wand is put to best use by providing more money to districts that are made up of low-income kids.  That money could be put to use by hiring and training good teachers, or buying new textbooks and improving school buildings.  In an experiment run by professors at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, it was proved that extra money to poor students made them less likely to be poor adults, increased the likelihood that they would graduate from high school, and the funding led to a nearly 10 percent increase in low-income student’s adult earnings.[7] This proves the point that money does matter, especially for students living in poverty, and it can result in greater educational and economic gains if used correctly.

[1] Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics (New York: Norton, 2010), 101-102

[2] Berger, Noah, and Peter Fisher, “A Well-Educated Workforce Is Key to State Prosperity.” Economic Policy Institute, 22 Aug. 2013,

[3] Turner, Cory, “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?” NPR, 25 Apr. 2016,

[4] Turner, “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?” NPR, 25 Apr. 2016

[5] Turner, “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?” NPR, 25 Apr. 2016

[6] Turner, “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?” NPR, 25 Apr. 2016

[7] Turner, “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?” NPR, 25 Apr. 2016

Image: “Education.” Digital Image. Laura Bohling,


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