Last night on The Daily Show, in talking about the Baltimore riots, this exchange took place between host Jon Stewart and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:
Stewart: Right now it seems the easy thing to do is to say, “There are criminals on the streets and they’re creating violence.” That’s the easiest thing in the world to do and not to address in any way…
Stephanopoulos: It’s true but it’s not enough….
Stewart: It’s not enough at all. And it’s a small percentage of it. And you just wonder sometimes if we’re spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, like, we can’t build a little taste down Baltimore way. Like is that what’s really going on.
Stephanopoulos: This is what drives me crazy …. you just got applause when you said that line. Any single politician in the country gets applause when they say that line. Yet it doesn’t happen.
Stewart: Because I think ultimately what they count on is that those applause lines will be obscured by the reality of the real power structure within Washington….
Where to begin? Let’s start with Stewart’s claim that we have spent “a trillion dollars” to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools. Not quite. In fact, not even close. Between 2002 and 2012, USAID invested $885 million in education projects in Afghanistan.
As for their broader point, which is that we have spent a huge sum of money on Afghanistan’s schools but we’re not spending enough for cities like Baltimore: Those claims are also false. Let’s focus just on education in Baltimore, so we can do an apples-to-apples comparison.
As this article points out, according to data from the Census Bureau, the Baltimore school system ranked second among the nation’s 100 largest school districts in how much it spent per pupil in fiscal year 2011. Baltimore’s $15,483 per-pupil expenditure was second to New York City’s $19,770.
As for where the United States ranks:
The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] report.
That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.
As a share of its economy, the United States spent more than the average country in the survey. In 2010, the United States spent 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education, compared with the 6.3 percent average of other OECD countries.
The argument Stewart and Stephanopoulos were throwing out–we’re dramatically under-investing in America’s cities–is liberal claptrap. To stay with the issue of education, the problem with American education in general, and large urban school districts in particular, isn’t lack of funding. It’s lack of accountability and transparency, lack of competition and choice, lack of results and high standards. We obsess on inputs and ignore outputs. What often happens, in fact, is the worst school districts often get the most money based on the flawed premise that the reason the schools are failing is lack of funding.
We’re spending an enormous amount of money on a system that isn’t producing, and it’s liberal interest groups (e.g., education unions) and the Democratic Party that are ferocious opponents of the kind of reforms that would improve American education. What exactly are the compelling public policy and moral arguments for opposing school choice for kids in the worst schools in America? There are none. The opposition is based on wanting to maintain and increase political power. If it’s the kids who suffer, so be it. Progressivism has an agenda to achieve, after all. Sometimes you need to break eggs to make an omelet.
A confession: I think Jon Stewart is a fine comedian and George Stephanopoulos a fine journalist. I’ve had good things to say about both in the past. Yet they are both deeply liberal, and now and then their liberalism pours forth in uninformed ways. Their Daily Show interview is an example of ideology dressed up as moral concern, which can sometimes lead to moral preening.
A final point: For all their self-proclaimed compassion, liberals and liberalism are, in important respects, doing significant damage to the young people in America, and most especially to the most vulnerable in our midst. Messrs. Stewart and Stephanopoulos don’t seem to realize this, but they should. Because human lives should take priority over political ideology.