| August 6, 2012

What D.C. Schools Can Teach Us about Obamacare

Thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has gained broad new powers to control the nation’s health care system. This, we are told by the President and his fellow travelers, will save money, expand access, and improve quality.

One way to gauge the chances of that is to see what benefits federal oversight has brought to education in the one district in the nation over which Congress has ultimate authority: the District of Columbia public schools.

The Census Bureau has now confirmed my finding that D.C. public schools spend about $30,000 per pupil annually. That is more than double the national average of public schools. Access to schooling may be universal in the District, but access to a quality education is not. As Economist Mark Perry writes, despite its stratospheric spending, D.C.’s graduation rate of 58.6 percent is far lower than the national average of 75.5 percent. The academic performance of its students is also significantly below the national average, and also below the average for other big city districts—in both reading and mathematics. Its achievement gaps by race and socioeconomic status are also larger than in other public school districts.

That is how the only public school district in the nation under the control of Congress performs. Nor have nationwide federal education programs shown promise, as the chart below illustrates.

If our experience with education is any guide, a bigger federal role in health care does not bode well.


Andrew J. Coulson is the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.

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