Timothy B. Lee

Governor Blunt has proposed that schools be required to devote 65 percent of their budgets to classroom instruction. He deserves credit for highlighting the need for educational improvement, but unfortunately, his plan is more likely to lead to accounting gimmickry than genuine improvements in student performance. Instead of micromanaging the public schools, he should throw his weight behind school choice proposals that will empower parents while spurring public schools to improve.

The governor is right that more resources need to be devoted to instruction rather than to administrative overhead. But such changes will only be effective if they are embraced by principals. If schools merely comply with the letter of the law—say, by assigning a few of their administrators to supervise study hall for one period each day—that won’t do a thing to improve educational outcomes. And it will create added paperwork for schools that are already doing a good job.

Governor Blunt’s proposal rightly focuses on holding schools accountable. However, it’s important to ask: accountable to whom? The governor’s plan holds them accountable to state bean counters, by dictating how they spend their money. But what needed is to hold schools accountable to their customers: parents.

The best way to do that is to give parents more choices, so that if their children are not leaning in their current school, they have the option of taking them to a school that will do a better job. Only then will public school administrators truly feel the urgency to make the tough choices necessary to raise student achievement.

Opponents of the governor’s 65 percent plan have pointed out that out that not all districts—or all children in those districts—are the same. They’re right. Local school boards need the flexibility to decide how to make the best use of their limited resources. Different districts have different student bodies with different needs. One-size-fits-all education won’t work.

But that analysis applies to individual students, too. Just as each school district needs the flexibility to make educational choices tailored to the needs of the children in their districts, each parent needs the flexibility to choose the best educational option for his or her child. There is no reason to think that all the children in a particular school district need the same kind of instruction. One child might do best in a large school with a lot of extracurricular activities. Another might thrive in a small school where each student gets more personal attention. Some children might need an environment of strict discipline, while another might flourish in a school that lets students work at their own pace. Some might be interested in science, while others might be interested in arts or foreign languages.

Instead of further centralizing education with a one-size-fits-all spending rule, we should be exploring ways to increase choice and diversity in our education system. No two school districts are alike. And neither are any two children.

Timothy B. Lee is an editor at the Show-Me Institute. The mission of the Show-Me Institute is to to research, develop, and advance public policies that enhance economic growth and opportunity for all residents of Missouri.

About the Author