Do Public Schools Need More Construction Spending?

One of the supposed benefits of President Obama’s “Jobs Bill” (despite demands to “pass it now”, the jobs bill has not yet been submitted to be printed) is more money for public schools to spend on construction. About half of the $900 million Pennsylvania is estimated to get would go to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Philadelphia School district, to “update” and “repair” schools buildings.

Einstein once said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To wit, spending more on school construction is a path Pennsylvania taxpayers have raced down for the past 15 years. From 1995-96 to 2009-10, Pennsylvania public school spending on construction and debt (mostly for construction-related bonds) increased 157 percent. That is, spending doubled, and then increased another 57 percent. To put it in perspective, the $1.7 billion increase in annual construction and debt payments is the equivalent of paying 30,000 teachers the average statewide salary of $58,976.

Over that time, Pennsylvania’s job growth has lagged the rest of nation.  And neither did more construction spending improve the quality of education, nor did improving buildings eradicate violent and failing schools.

It may be time to stop repeating the same failed policies of the past.