An Education Bailout? It Won't Improve Schools

It looks like the trillion-dollar "stimulus" (read: pork) bill is going to include a hefty dose of spending on schools. Of course, we don't know yet what the proposed bill will contain, and the proposal will undergo a lot of revision when it goes through the congressional sausage grinder. But from the leaks and preliminary reports, respectable observers are estimating that as much as $70 billion or even $100 billion may ultimately end up going to K-12 schools. For comparison, after the radical expansion of federal education spending that came with No Child Left Behind, the feds now spend about $40 billion per year on K-12 education.

Politically, it's a shrewd move. They don't really care what they're building, as long as they're building something, so as long as they're building a bunch of roads and bridges and community centers they may as well build some schools, too. The teachers' unions have successfully spread the myth that schools desperately need more facilities spending, even though facilities spending per student almost doubled from 1990 to 2005 (after inflation). So "New School to Be Built" is always a crowd-pleasing headline.

What this will do for America's schools is another question.

One thing it won't do is stimulate the economy. It ought to go without saying, but alas it does not, that stimulus bills don't stimulate. And the reason for that is worth a short digression, because it's relevant to the effect that this "stimulating" school spending will actually have on schools.

The old Keynesian theory said that government spending could stimulate the economy by harnessing the "multiplier effect," meaning that new economic activity will produce more new economic activity. If you click on an ad here at Pajamas Media (which you really should -- why not do it right now? -- but please make sure you come back here and finish reading afterward), the site's revenue goes up. That means it will buy more of my columns. So I'll have the money to buy that face transplant everyone tells me I need, which will increase hospital revenues, so more health care workers will be hired, increasing dues revenue at the Service Employees International Union, so they'll have more money on hand the next time they want to sit down with Rod Blagojevich to talk about subjects like how big a bribe he's looking for.