The Boundless Progressive Faith That More Money Will Solve The Problem This Time

By now you very likely know that the voters of San Francisco have just approved a new business tax designed to raise $300 million per year to finally deliver the coup de grace to the problem of homelessness. In approving this measure, the San Franciscans were undeterred by the abject failure of places like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle to reduce “homelessness,” let alone eliminate it, through comparable massive spending increases. Indeed, all of those places have seen “homelessness” soar right along with the spending supposedly designed to have the opposite effect.

Readers here know well about the pervasive issue of government spending worsening the social problems it was supposedly going to fix. See, e.g., “poverty.” There are enough examples out there to fill this blog and many others. For today, let’s take a look at the fascinating subject of public schools, with a focus on those here in New York City.

Perhaps you recall the wave of teachers’ strikes that swept through Republican-led states earlier this year, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. The claim was that the schools needed additional “resources” to properly educate the kids. In each case the legislators backed down and upped the spending. Of course, most of the money went to the teachers to continue doing exactly what they were doing before (although somewhat higher pay was not necessarily inappropriate in these states). We’ll have to wait to see whether any evidence emerges that the spending increases lead to improved educational results.

But in the meantime, it should be extremely enlightening to see whether the highest spending states achieve superior results in return for their efforts. What is the highest-spending state in per student K-12 expenditure? You guessed it — it’s New York. This CNBC article collects Census data on educational spending in the 50 states for the 2017 year. The average per student spending was $11,392, with states at the low end of the range spending only about $7000 per student. At the top, number one New York spent $21,206 — close to double the national average.

And yet, believe it or not, there has been a recent big push for still higher school spending in New York. The particular pitch has been that minority students continue to underperform, with blame then placed on the usual suspect of “lack of resources.” Cynthia Nixon — the actress who also had a gig as spokesperson for the teachers’ union and who then challenged Governor Cuomo from the left in the Democratic primary — made increased K-12 school funding a principal plank of her campaign. From a June 13 New York Times piece on her campaign:

[Ms. Nixon] sharply criticizes the status quo as a system where “white, wealthy children are prepared for college, and low-income children of color are disproportionately put into the school-to-prison pipeline.” Positioning herself against Mr. Cuomo is a constant. “If I had to attribute the fact that I’m running for governor to one issue and one moment,” Ms. Nixon said in an interview, “it would be the education issue.” The biggest item on her agenda is $4.2 billion in additional money for K-12 education.

That’s $4.2 billion on top of about $27 billion already spent annually on pre-college education in New York City alone.

Meanwhile, New York City recently got a new school Chancellor named Richard Carranza, who can be fairly described as a social justice warrior. Late October found Carranza up in Harlem holding a town hall meeting with local parents. Quotes from his remarks at the meeting have him repeatedly describing his own schools as a “system of haves and have nots,” with the “have nots” systematically deprived of “resources”:

“If you want any evidence of the haves and have nots, I want you to look where resources have been invested in the past,” [Carranza] said. “I will tell you that Harlem, and the Bronx and Central Brooklyn, the Rockaways . . . these communities have been under-served for years.”

Really??? Actually, Carranza has no idea what he is talking about. In the City Journal of November 9, Ray Domenico and Seth Barron compile some easily-available data coming from Carranza’s own bureaucracy. Compared to nationwide average per student spending of $11,392, and New York State average per student spending of $21,206:

  • New York City per student annual spending is $24,533.

  • The most highly funded districts within New York City are Districts 16 and 23, covering Central Brooklyn (the most heavily black and Hispanic part of the City). Their annual funding levels per student are, respectively, $29,668 and $27,191.

  • The next highest per student spending levels are found in Districts 7, 5 and 4 (Harlem and the South Bronx) and 32 and 19 (Bushwick and East New York). Those with knowledge of New York geography will immediately recognize these as the main areas of minority population in the City.

But are these high funding levels just a phenomenon of the last few years? Absolutely not. Domenico and Barron point out that prior Mayor Bloomberg, in office for 12 full years preceding de Blasio, followed the exact same policy of providing the most funding to the schools in the most disadvantaged areas:

The emphasis on funding the poorest and most disadvantaged districts is not new to the de Blasio administration. The city’s Independent Budget Office reported that in 2013–14, the last year in which Michael Bloomberg’s Department of Education set budgets, “the largest per pupil allocations [were] found in the South Bronx (district 7), Central Brooklyn (district 16), Upper Manhattan (districts 4 and 5), and the Lower East Side (district 1).”

So it looks like, in the view of Cynthia Nixon and her progressive allies, $29,000+ spending per student per year is how the evil stingy rich people (herself not included) put “people of color” into the “school-to-prison pipeline.” But don’t worry, a big increase in spending is going to fix the problem this time. And, after the next big spending increase doesn’t work, the same people will continue to advocate for the yet another one, believing again that this time it will work.