Over the past decade, the average spending-per-pupil budget in the nation has doubled and class sizes have reduced significantly, but there are still complaints and claims that our students’ scores have decreased and are mediocre in comparison to other countries. These claims encourage our lawmakers to debate on how to alter the perception of American education. Based on the previously stated statistics, the issue is not that the education system needs more money. Rather, it is where and how the states spend their education money that matters.

First, I think the national government should stay as far removed from the education system as possible, because efficiency usually staggers when the feds get involved. The federal government should leave education to the states, and the states should give as much discretion to the localities as possible. In Virginia, for example, we have a very diverse geographical area, with extremely rural sections as well as dense urban populations. It is nearly impossible for the state, nevermind the federal government, to adequately serve all areas and respond to what each area needs the most.

Though I do not trust or agree with the federal government dictating educational standards to the states, I believe they can help financially by encouraging the states to compete for subsidies. Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, did some research within the past year on how much the federal government spends on education. He notes that it is hard to come up with a completely accurate number, but reports that the federal government spent an estimated $107.6 billion dollars on education during the 2012 fiscal year, accounting for three percent of the $3.5 trillion spent total. (Find the full report in his article from Economix). I propose that money should be reallocated from some of the duplicate and redundant programs the federal government spends money on (see more details here from USA Today), and the excess found here could be used as a source of competition between the states. Even if just $1 billion of this saved money were to be distributed between ten states deemed to have the best model for education, the potential domino effect could change our schools on a national level. In this scenario, the ten succeeding states would serve as examples to the rest of the country for how to spend money on education and how to run the schools.  The states would be judged on how efficiently their education budget is, using a combination of an evaluation of students’ average scores, the types of services and programs offered to students, and student progress rates.

Simple steps can be taken to improve education in the United States, and it all starts with how efficiently we spend our money.


Elizabeth Marcello | The College of William and Mary | @eliz_mariah