In The Times Matt Miller resurrects an old idea – revenue sharing – with a new twist, tying big increases in the federal share of education spending to differentiated pay for teachers. Matt’s onto something here – the heavy reliance on localized funding for schools is unfair to poor communities, more federal money should include some reciprocal obligations for states, and more money for human capital reforms is an important idea. But, human capital reform likely can be leveraged for less than the sums Matt is discussing (pdf).
Instead, with the kind of money Matt is talking about Washington could exert even more leverage with an eye toward increasing productivity although perhaps in less sexy ways. For example, a serious effort to put the federal government on track to meet its financial obligations under the federal special education law – IDEA -could be coupled with requirements to curb the over-identification of students for special education. Federal aid could be tightly linked to even more robust efforts around data systems than we’re seeing today, especially in laggard states. Perhaps you could even try for the national standards moonshot via more interstate collaboration or some derivative of it around enhanced benchmarking and transparency around standards and assessments. These ideas need not, and should not, lead to a nationalizing of the school system but could be done in the context state flexibility under an umbrella of national goals and priorities.
Less clear given the politics as well as the radically decentralized state of education finance today, is whether revenue-sharing along these lines would actually lead to a net-reduction in spending or productivity reforms or just, as they say, make the pie higher. That’s why tying reciprocal requirements to federal dollars is especially important – to make sure that, regardless, they are buying something.