More money does not equal more learning
June 17, 2008
Can Ohio afford Gov. Strickland's education reform plan? Not without a tax increase, according to Richard Sheridan, of the Center for Community Solutions, writing in the latest issue of State Budgeting Matters. Sheridan is surely right-after all, with the full implementation of scheduled tax cuts in a few years, Ohio will see billions of dollars less in revenue annually. Those tax cuts, in addition to other economic development stimuli, are designed to boost business. If the resulting tax take doesn't offset the future lower rates, then every state-spending program will be up for substantial reductions. Sheridan, however, is wrong to assume that improving Ohio's public-education system means spending more.
Sheridan chronicles the public-education changes Ohio governors have made throughout the 20th century. He highlights three major instances-under governors White, Gilligan, and Voinovich-that he says can be considered real reforms. In each instance, Sheridan argues, education reform and increased taxes were inextricably bound. The changes he points to, however, were really just modifications to how the state funds its schools and how much it spends on education. They were not wholesale transformations of the education system. And, while Ohio's K-12 education needs a transformation, it is not the one Gov. Strickland is probably contemplating.
Sheridan looks at education through the lenses of the educational producers, who never seem to see that successful education reform does not necessarily mean more teachers, more programs, more requirements, and more money. A recent report by the World Bank entitled "Education Quality and Economic Growth" (see here) looked at the impact of educational spending in 25 countries since the early 1970s. The researchers discovered that, "pure resource policies that adopt the existing structure of school operations are unlikely to lead to necessary improvements in learning." In short, there is no relationship between spending and student performance across the 25-country sample of middle- and higher-income countries. What does make a difference, according to the World Bank, are good teachers, strong and transparent accountability systems, school autonomy, and high-quality choice programs.
It's still too early to tell what the governor's reform plan will include and how it will be financed, and it is wise not to over-speculate. In the meantime, Sheridan's brief is a terrific, lay-friendly primer in the evolution of school funding in Ohio and a good refresher for those, including The Gadfly, who follow Strickland's every move.