Throwing $$ at Schools?

If critics of America's public schools are right, the education system is something of a financial sink hole. Pour more money in and it disappears without any results in better-educated youngsters.

Greater efficiencies in elementary and secondary public schools are undoubtedly possible. But, contrary to some headlines, the United States hasn't exactly been stuffing the schools with wads of dollars.

A study by the Economic Policy Institute finds that per-pupil spending has grown only 0.7 percent after inflation between 1991 and 1996. And much of that extra spending - about 37 percent - went to special education, that is, to helping students with learning problems and other disabilities. Bilingual education and school meals absorbed more money. So spending on "regular" education fell by 2 percent in the 1990s.

It may be that some special students would have been in the regular category in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, the study by economist Richard Rothstein does indicate that education remains a labor-intensive activity. Computers may be useful aids. But teachers stand as the main delivery means for instruction.

Americans certainly want their youngsters properly educated. In that regard, charges of extravagance in the schools don't help in a proper assessment of the needs.

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