Repeating School Spending History
I saw a meme once that said “Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it while those who learn history are doomed to watch as other people repeat it.” I can’t help but identify with that as the details of the federal government’s massive school spending plans are unveiled.
Those of a certain age in Kansas City might remember the landmark Missouri v. Jenkins case that wound its way through the courts during the 1980s and 1990s. The decision led to direct oversight of the Kansas City public schools by a federal judge and billions of dollars in spending, but the key indicators that the case hinged on—student academic performance and racial segregation—barely budged.
I can’t do the whole story justice here, but I can highly recommend University of Colorado professor Joshua Dunn’s outstanding book on the case: Complex Justice: The Case of Missouri v. Jenkins.
Here is a brief excerpt from his conclusion, which might give us pause today as we think about the new spending heading our way:
Many of the problems afflicting urban education can be traced to school districts’ political and institutional arrangements, which give incentives to school boards and superintendents to institute quick reforms that do not challenge established interests. The KCMSD is no exception. In the 1970s and early 1980s, a new superintendent would come in with a “new” plan to rescue the city’s schools. The plan would fail. The school board would fire the superintendent and then commission a study to come up with another plan. That plan would fail as well. Missouri v. Jenkins was the continuation of this failed policy strategy by judicial means. Even with the aggressive oversight of a federal judge, the KCMSD’s problems persisted. A dysfunctional organization given all the money it asks for will likely use that money in a dysfunctional way. Fixing the “root causes” of the problem—poor administration and poor instructions—should be the place to start.