July 23, 2024

Making Sense of Education Spending

Chris Darkins knows something that the rest of us don’t about the public education system.  Or perhaps we recognize that there is a problem but don’t realize in our limited fumbling about in the dark exactly what sort of monster is in the room with our children. 

And it is a hideous beast: a standardized, homogenous, legalistic, one-size-fits-all lump of a thing that devours tax dollars like they were candy and gives us back No Child Left Behind as a slogan while allowing our educational outcomes to fall farther behind the rest of the civilized world every year.  Of course I mean the federal government, but you undoubtedly guessed that long ago.

I’ve written at length about fundamental problems with government interference, mandated amorality, teacher compensation, student apathy, misplaced priorities, politically correct stupidity, and some of the other woes of our education system. 

I strongly believe in these and all of the other observations I’ve made about this tragically flawed system over the years.  But today Chris offered up an interesting idea that I’ve never considered before.  I have to say, I’m a bit chagrined that I didn’t think of it first.  But credit goes where it’s deserved.

One major problem with the education system is that it’s under the thumb of the “experts” in Washington D.C to the tune of $68 billion annually.  This is money that is taken from the states and local school districts and sent to Washington in return for their expert guidance, federal mandates, and an uncertain amount of financial remuneration.


Instead of taxpayers sending $68 billion per year to Washington the Department of Education should be a consulting and advisory organization that is responsible for sharing best practices among the states not taking money from the states tax base and giving it back with strings attached.  Assuming we keep the existing 4200 employees the cost to run the Department of Education should not exceed $407 million per year if they assume the same cost structure as Accenture [ed.  Accenture is a highly successful, high-dollar information technology consulting firm].

The questions we must ask the U.S. Department of Education are as follows: 1. What are you doing with the $34 billion thats is not redistributed via targeted grants? 2. Why does the federal government think they have a better understanding of the educational challenges facing local communities and how to address them?

I submit that Mr. Darkins number is a little low – if the feds in D.C. are in fact the experts they are alleged to be we should pay them more than your average Accenture consultant whose skillset and education is essentially equivalent to that of yours truly.  Neverthless, it’s clear that Darkins is correct.  The DoE’s annual budget could easily be fit under a $1B cap if their enthusiasm was restrained to the areas of advising, teaching the teachers, and evangelizing new techniques.

In itself this isn’t a new thought.  Neither is the idea that the DoE is wasting vast amounts of tax money that could be – and should be – better directed by local administrators.  Here’s what Chris had to say that floored me:

At the state level we should integrate the secondary and post secondary school system.  Each public and private school should be required to subscribe to a University system.  For example, you would have the UT k-12 school system and the U of H k-12 school system.  The curriculum would be managed by the University to provide standardized courses and provide a broad range of elective courses tied into post secondary degree tracts.

Parents would be allowed to choose what school system they want their child to attend based upon the multitude of learning programs and upper level electives offered.  A child with an early aptitude for science would join a junior high school in the Rice network while a child with an interest in literature would join a school in the Houston Baptist University system. Students could change school systems at any time as their payment voucher would be a portable instrument.

These are excellent suggestions that deserve to be taken seriously.  Not only would the education of a state’s children be directed by the best resources in the state – the leaders of its universities – but the education gap between what federally controlled high schools are providing and what major universities require from incoming students would necessarily be eliminated as a result.  Moreover, the idea of focusing a curriculum to children’s specific needs and interests is long overdue and seemingly beyond public schools’ ability to provide.

Great idea.  I just wish I’d thought of it first!


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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