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When activists accidentally say the quiet part out loud

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

In a recent column about K-12 education funding, I made a few simple requests of those who say we need to spend more: (1) tell us how much we should spend and (2) tell us how we'll know if we're spending enough.

It makes sense to ask these questions. After all, taxpayers and working families don't have unlimited cash. There are many priorities that need funding. In order to fix a problem, we need to define the issue and how we arrive at a fix. If you're going to say we need to spend more, we need to know the amount and what success looks like.

But the questions are never answered - at least not publicly. Maybe that's changing.

An education activist who calls himself a "human factors scientist" recently replied to my column with this piece in Idaho Education News. The column repeats a lot of tired talking points regarding public education. It also volleys a lot of untruths that quite frankly don't deserve a response. (I post it here because we believe in free speech and the civil exchange of ideas, even if we might disagree with them.)

But this part of Mr. Mortenson's op-ed was perhaps the most telling, and the line that education activists likely shouldn't repeat.

An arrogant, dismissive response to be sure.

"More" and "when we say so" are not acceptable answers aimed at improving outcomes for children.

We've already discussed why spending more does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. In fact, Utah is one of the states that spends the least and yet has the best outcomes. Nationally, we've more than tripled the amount we spent on K-12 since the 1970's and yet outcomes in most states are lower.

This is not to say that we shouldn't spend on education. The question is, rather, where the money is being spent. Our belief is that the money belongs to the child's education - not necessarily any system. And the funds are not unlimited.

The reality is the questions I posed in my op-ed have been left unanswered for decades. Our kids, families and taxpayers deserve some answers. No system should have a blank check.

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