The biggest – and one of the most dangerous – myths in all of public policy is that money improves the quality of education.
It’s a myth that has caused elected-officials and activists to push for millions in new spending despite all of the evidence that it has absolutely no impact.
We are throwing a seemingly unlimited amount of dollars at our children, yet they are not receiving a higher quality education or performing any better on any measures. They are seemingly no better prepared for the future despite the unfathomable increase in the amount of money we spend teaching them.
The education-money myth is sadly the underlying premise behind one of the five horrendous initiatives which will appear on the ballot in November here in Maine. This initiative would impose an additional (and burdensome) income tax on high-earning households and funnel all of this increased revenue towards public education.
But part of what makes this myth so dangerous is that even though it’s easily disproven, it just won’t seem to go away. Like the shark in Jaws, no matter how many holes you blow in this argument, it still keeps on swimming. And even more frustrating is the fact that individuals and organizations who should know better fall for this myth.
In fact, just last week, the Portland Press Herald endorsed this ballot initiative, and proclaimed in an editorial that “Maine schools have a funding problem.” Although they begrudgingly admitted that “spending more doesn’t necessarily lead to success,” they laid out a doomsday-esque picture of education in Maine which left readers wondering if schools even had enough money to open their doors this fall.
But if there’s any problem in our education system, it’s not the amount of funding – it’s the spending levels.
We should be truly alarmed that people continue to assert that funding will make any difference at all. It really doesn’t matter how many millions we spend on education – there are much more important factors that influence how our students learn and develop the skills needed to be successful.
We can pass millions, billions, or trillions of dollars in new taxes, and hand out hundred dollar bills to our students as they walk through the doors of our schools. Our teachers, administrators, and education aides can be paid sky-high salaries. We can build massive and beautiful new schools that make the Taj-Mahal look like a dilapidated shack. But none of this will get to the heart of the real reason our students are under-performing.
To illustrate my point, just look at how some of the most successful schools – charter schools – receive significantly less funding than traditional public schools. Year after year, they show that the model for improving education doesn’t involve spending more money – but getting back to the basics and putting students first.
Going forward, our schools must get on track by emphasizing strong and rigorous academic programs. We must focus on local control and empower our teachers and educational professionals. Our families must take a stronger role in education, and we must develop new and creative ways to engage students and ensure they are comprehending the subject matter.
Unfortunately, this ballot initiative is steering the conversation away from these important aspects of education. Instead of talking about how to actually improve our classrooms, and ways we can better connect with students, we are discussing increasing taxes and spending, and becoming distracted from what really matters.
So the next time you hear someone talking about this ballot initiative or any funding problems with our schools, just remember: Money does not improve the quality of education.