THE PLANK MARCH 4, 2008
The Center for American Progress has a provocative new report out by Matt Miller entitled Nationalize the Schools (...A Little)! It builds on his January article in The Atlantic, "First, Kill All the School Boards" (whatever one wants to say about Miller, the man does not shy away from attention-grabbing titles). Some of Miller's attacks on local control of education come off as a little over the top, but one that's dead on is his claim that local control has contributed to gross inequalities in per-pupil funding, both within and (perhaps more importantly) between states. The map above (click to enlarge) highlights the magnitude of the problem, but one underappreciated aspect of it is that current policy makes the problem worse, not better. Federal aid to disadvantaged schools is allocated based upon how much states are already spending on education, so wealthy states that can afford to spend more get more federal money. As UC Berkeley's Goodwin Liu explains (pdf), Massachusetts has 33 percent fewer poor children than Alabama but receives 36 percent more aid under Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As Miller points out, conservatives frequently cite as a model voucher programs in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, but those countries would never tolerate the degree of inequity in education financing we have in America. Miller's other proposals are worth a look, but at the federal level, revising Title I funding formulas to more effectively target the money we're already spending seems like it should be a no-brainer.
(Image: The Atlantic)