President Obama’s recent budget proposal would increase education spending by 11% to $77 billion.

How many more times does this need repeating? Pouring more and more money down the drain of the American educations system is not the answer!

Yes, the American K-12 education system is in a dire state, featuring mediocre performance coupled with some of the highest spending on education globally. Yes, education is an important and necessary component for future American competitiveness. And yes, we all want America’s children to have the skills and abilities to procure a prosperous life for themselves and their families. But, NO, more federal involvement and spending on education is not the answer.

Andrew Coulson, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, recently presented the following data in front of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce:

Federal K-12 Spending per pupil and achievement

The graph unmistakably demonstrates the lack of correlation between federal increases in spending on education with performance. A similar graph totaling overal education spending is a near cookie cutter copy of this one. There is no good reason to increase spending on education, especially now, at a time when the whole country is facing a budget crisis and is nearly drowning in government debt. Reduced funding for education, far from shortchanging America’s children, ought to motivate states, localities, and the federal government to figure out how to do more with less.

What applies to the states, applies to the federal government in this case as well. As I wrote in my recent Townhall column on the need for state budget cuts in education,

Not all budget cuts have to be bad news though…. The good news is that there are proven ways to reform education which can ease budget pressures while simultaneously raising student achievement. … Necessary state budget cuts could be a boon, rather than a burden, to education if state governors and legislators adopt meaningful education reforms by introducing more competition and school choice in their states.

Similarly, Andrew Coulson suggests that the government could serve as a role model by reviving the DC Opportunity Scholarship:

But amidst this bleak overall record, there is one federal education program that has been proven to both improve educational outcomes and dramatically lower costs. That is the Washington, DC Opportunity Scholarships Program. Research conducted by the Department of Education finds that students attending private schools thanks to this program have equal or better academic performance than their peers in the local public schools, and have significantly higher graduation rates. This, and very high levels of parental satisfaction, come at an average per pupil cost of around $7,000. By contrast, per pupil spending on k-12 public education in the nation’s capital was roughly $28,000 during the 2008-09 school year.

The OSP program is thus producing better results at a quarter the cost.

DC, of course, is a special case. The federal government is not empowered by the Constitution to create such a program on a national level. Indeed the Constitution delegates to the federal government no national education policy powers, reserving them, under the 10th Amendment, to the states and the people. Clearly, this limit has not been observed for generations, but its wisdom is by now inescapable. We have decades of evidence of the inability of our national education programs to fulfill their worthy intentions.  

Nevertheless, Congress could contribute greatly to the spread of educational excellence around the nation by preserving and growing the Opportunity Scholarships Program as an example of what is possible and by phasing out its vast array of ineffective programs. This would ultimately allow for a permanent annual tax cut on the order of seventy billion dollars, and would bolster interest in the many state level private school choice programs that have also been improving outcomes while lowering costs. Any move in this direction would be of lasting value to American families and the American economy.