| June 1, 2012

Education reform key to spending discussion

The state’s largest newspaper is right to say that “a tough talk about education funding in Oklahoma is long overdue.” My modest contribution to the discussion is this: It’s fruitless to talk about education funding without talking about education reform.

Fortunately, it’s not just conservatives who understand that reform is necessary. President Barack Obama has acknowledged that “money without reform will not fix the problem.”

Wayne Greene, a liberal editorial writer at the Tulsa World, said in 2010 that he intended to vote against State Question 744 because it “would increase spending without any attempt at reforming the school system. Spending more money for the same methods is sending good money after bad. Funding without reform is expensive and worthless at the same time.”

Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, said that “reform must come first and the dollars to support achievement must follow. As educators, we must accept the fact that reform is here and it is not going away. Demanding dollars without reform is a losing argument, morally unacceptable, and politically unattainable.”

Now I realize that Messrs. Obama, Greene, and Allen don’t favor all of the same education reforms that I support. Nevertheless, their disillusionment with the status quo is important.

Writing in the current City Journal (‘Better Schools, Fewer Dollars’), Marcus A. Winters makes an important contribution to this education-funding conversation:

"Here’s what looks like a policy dilemma. To attain the economic growth that it desperately needs, the United States must improve its schools and train a workforce capable of competing in the global economy. Economists Eric Hanushek, Dean Jamison, Eliot Jamison, and Ludger Woessmann estimate that improving student achievement by half of one standard deviation—roughly the current difference between the United States and Finland—would increase U.S. GDP growth by about a full percentage point annually. Yet states and the federal government face severe budgetary constraints these days; how are policymakers supposed to improve student achievement while reducing school funding?

"In reality, that task is far from impossible. The story of American education over the last three decades is one not of insufficient funds but of inefficient schools. Billions of new dollars have gone into the system, to little effect. Luckily, Americans are starting to recognize that we can improve schooling without paying an additional dime. In fact, by unleashing the power of educational choice, we might even save money while getting better results and helping the economy’s long-term prospects."

I think most people realize that reform—not more money—is the only long-term solution for the United States Postal Service. It’s time we started thinking this way about another heavily unionized, government-owned, government-operated monopoly.

Brandon Dutcher can be reached at or

Loading Next