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Lloyd Brown: Some education spending myths refuse to die

by | Feb 23, 2021



When I covered the Florida Legislature as a reporter 50 years ago, the biggest battle each year always was over school funding. Nothing has changed.

Special interests advocating higher spending for public schools swarmed all over the Capitol during the session, hammering legislators to pour ever more money into Big Education.

State leaders almost always do, but never enough to suit the education establishment.

This year, with revenues down because of the pandemic, will be no different.

Before I go further, let’s pause to note that there is no relationship between more funding and better education. That is a myth the special interests and their media friends have peddled to Florida residents for years.

They never talk about outputs – how well the kids are being educated. All they want to talk about is inputs – the money.

Why is that important? Because it funds the teacher unions and the teacher union bosses direct billions into the campaign coffers of liberal candidates who can be counted upon to vote for more spending, in a never-ending cycle.

Another trick is to use comparisons with other states that also focus on spending. Florida, it turns out, spends less than some other states.

But it also educates kids better than some other states. What matters is getting the most value from your money, not how much you spend.

Now that we have established it is irrelevant, has spending increased?

Big Education advocates like to cherry-pick the period around 2007 as a base, because that was a high point before a recession restricted state spending.

From the 2007 year through 2020, state spending under the Florida Education Finance Program increased more than 16 percent.

The state school equalization formula is sufficiently complicated that Big Education can twist the numbers to produce whatever they want to produce. So the significance of those numbers undoubtedly will be attacked.

The other thing liberals use to misdirect people is to focus on state spending. But schools get money from local governments and the federal government also.

I once measured spending by every Florida school district over a 10 year period and no district spent less from one year to the next. In fact, the average increase for that period was 30 percent. I’m fairly confident the figures for any 10-year period would be similar.

That’s real money. It doesn’t matter whether they got it from the state government, local government, federal government or the Tooth Fairy. The local school districts got it and spent it, mostly on teacher salaries.

In short, there is no dearth of school spending. Nor would it likely matter if there were.

Gov. Jeb Bush brought school choice and accountability into the equation more than 20 years ago. Big Education has fought it strenuously, but the reforms have worked.

School choice is saving taxpayers money and improving the public schools, the research shows.

Test scores show improvement. If the “underfunding” myth were true, and the theory that it was harmful was viable, test scores would be plummeting. 

Lloyd Brown has covered Florida’s political scene as a reporter for half a century. He is now retired. 

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