In the same month that Congress legislated a $10 billion bailout for America’s schools and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lamented that school districts across the land had already cut “through . . . fat, through flesh, and into bone,” Los Angeles unveiled a new $578 million high school. Duncan must have found it awkward to see the new school announced even as he prepared $1.2 billion in emergency aid for California.
This is emblematic of a larger problem: Education leaders plead poverty even as they refuse to take a hard look at the way they do business. For more than half a century, we’ve spent more dollars on K–12 schooling each year than we did the year before. Between 1970 and 2005, we reduced the number of students per teacher by almost one-third — and real (inflation-adjusted) per-pupil spending more than doubled. In the run-up to the housing collapse, between 2004 and 2007, per-pupil expenditures grew by 17 percent — from $8,310 to $9,683. Schools kept spending dollars provided by inflated real-estate assessments right until the bubble burst.