No Time to Lose: Why America Needs an Education Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to Improve Public Education

Jack Byers

Southern Education Foundation
September 2009

This report from the Southern Education Foundation advocates for a “federal education amendment” to the Constitution as a means of fixing funding and resource disparities in American public education. After trying to explain why American education is failing, it turns to the vast funding and resource disparities (both intra-state and inter-state) among public schools. There are some impressive numbers, to be sure: In Alaska, for example, the highest-revenue district outspends the lowest-revenue district by more than $20,000 per student per year. The report points out that poor and minority students are often stuck in the lower-revenue districts, and it helpfully explains that, despite good intentions, federal Title I funding often exacerbates disparities. Next is a somewhat haphazard argument that funding disparities cause corresponding disparities in “opportunity to learn.” All of this leads SEF to the conclusion that it is time for the federal government to step in with a constitutional amendment. They offer several forms this might take, but the goal of each seems to be to equalize per-student funding across state and district lines. There are two problems here: First is the notion that the failures of American public education can all (or mostly) be attributed to under-funding. This simply isn’t true. There are plenty of well-funded schools and districts that are under-performing because of gross mismanagement, and there are plenty of under-funded charter schools that are outperforming them. This is not to say that resource disparities aren’t an issue, but they certainly aren’t the issue. The second issue is the idea that the way to fix public education is for the federal government to step in. Even granting political feasibility (far from a given, considering the backlash to even modest federal interventions in public education like Race to the Top), a Constitutional amendment would create at least as many problems as it solves; the last thing public education needs is more bureaucracy and more litigation. You can read the paper here.

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