Give consumers control of school spending

It's easy to bash Baltimore schools for wasting federal money on extravagant chicken dinners when that money was supposed to serve some of the neediest children in the state, but this type of behavior, in a slightly more tame fashion, is routine ("Audit faults schools over federal funds," May 23).

Public schools routinely spend money on activities that do not increase what students learn — that was the conclusion of a 2012 Harvard University study considering whether increasing school spending also increases student achievement. That study found no link between higher spending and more learning, largely because school administrators are used to spending other people's money without having to justify it by demonstrated, consistent results.

This is just human nature. If we all had access to other people's credit cards, many more people would be buying themselves tasty chicken dinners and Inner Harbor cruises. What's needed is to reorient the education system so it harnesses this natural human tendency rather than ignores it. That means, as in every other crucial aspect of life such as health care, food, and housing, giving the consumers of a service power over the money spent for it. If people could direct and divide the education money now spent "benevolently" on their behalf, we'd see more student achievement and less waste. It's worked everywhere it's been tried.

Joy Pullmann, Chicago

The writer is an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute.

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