Is This Rhode Island’s Future? Educational Adequacy & Unsatiated Tax-Eaters

Andrew has written about state education aid to Rhode Island towns. He has also written how Mayor Cicilline of Providence thinks $188 million or $6,772/student is not enough state aid, aid largely paid for by the rest of us in the state to fund the ongoing non-performance of his city’s schools.
The Mayor’s brazen attitude is another example of how he is one major tax-eater. Why is he so certain he can get away with throwing a child-like tantrum and walking out of a meeting with the Governor – unless he was certain his demand for more state monies will be successful? Could it be he is counting on additional monies through a manipulation of the political system via the educational adequacy study being funded here in Rhode Island, as written about by Marc?
If you want to see where all of this could easily go in Rhode Island, consider this news story:
In Educating From the Bench: Judges order legislators to spend more on schools, and taxpayers see less in return, Jay Greene writes:

Spending on public schools nationwide has skyrocketed to $536 billion as of the 2004 school year, or more than $10,000 per pupil. That’s more than double per pupil what we spent three decades ago, adjusted for inflation–and more than we currently spend on national defense ($494 billion as of 2005). But the argument behind lawsuits in 45 states is that we don’t spend nearly enough on schools. Spending is so low, these litigants claim, that it is in violation of state constitutional provisions requiring an “adequate” education. And in almost half the states, the courts have agreed.
Arkansas is one such state, and its “adequacy” problem neatly illustrates the way courts have driven spending up and evidence out…Like courts in other states, Arkansas’s court ordered that outside consultants be hired to determine how much extra funding would be required for an adequate education.
A firm led by two education professors, Lawrence Picus and Allan Odden, was paid $350,000 to put a price tag on what would be considered adequate. In September 2003 Messrs. Picus and Odden completed their report, concluding that Arkansas needed to add $847.3 million to existing school budgets…bringing the total to $4 billion, or $9,000 per pupil…
…To determine adequate spending [Picus and Odden] rely on what they immodestly call the “evidence-based” approach. This involves selectively embracing educational practices that some research finds beneficial and costing those policies out. Their method does not address whether their favored reforms would really result in an adequate education or are in fact the most cost-effective…
But the most obvious sign the Picus and Odden report is not really evidence-based is its neglect of empirical examination of the overall relationship between school spending and student achievement. If spending more is the answer to inadequate education, it should be the case that schools that spend more per pupil, all else being equal, have higher student achievement.
As it turns out, they don’t. The vast majority of social science studies find no relationship between spending and student achievement…the fact that per pupil spending has doubled over the past three decades while student achievement has remained stagnant ought to give us a clue that simply spending more won’t fix schools. The shortcomings of schools are not generally attributable to the lack of resources, but to a lack of incentives to use resources effectively.
By declaring that spending had to increase, the court foreclosed consideration of this relevant evidence…If legislators did not increase spending by roughly what Messrs. Picus and Odden asserted, they would be held in violation of the court order.
Yet even this wasn’t enough. After the total amount provided to Arkansas schools increased by 25% in one year, the legislature slowed the pace of spending. For the 2005 school year…the minimum amount that school districts would receive for operating expenses…was left unchanged at $5,400. The plaintiff attorneys argued before the state high court that spending had to at least match inflation.
The court agreed and ordered the governor to call the Legislature in special session to remedy the situation. Legislators met in early April and in less than a week increased spending again. They were so eager to placate the court that they gave schools more for the current school year, even though it could hardly do any good with only a month remaining. They also increased spending without knowing how the last round of additional money was being used or whether it had any effect. Messrs. Picus and Odden were retained for another $450,000 to provide this information, but their report is not expected until August…
One legislative leader attempted to justify their haste by declaring, “Lack of information does not justify legislative procrastination.” Doesn’t it?…Unspent reserves as of October 2005 were $1.1 billion, more than 25% of the total budget. That is, schools can’t even spend the additional money fast enough as the court orders more.
In Arkansas, as in too many other states, elected leaders have ceded control over the size of education budgets to unaccountable courts…As long as this continues, expect to spend more on education and see less in return.

Unsatiated tax-eaters, enabled by an engorged public sector which faces no constraints on its appetite for wasting your hard-earned monies. Will this be our future here in Rhode Island? What are you doing to change outcomes in your community?

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