What did spending billions more accomplish? The schools got worse. In 2000, five years and $2 billion later, the Kansas City school district failed 11 performance standards and lost its academic accreditation for the first time in the district's history.
A study by two professors at the Hoover Institution a few years ago compared public and Catholic schools in three of New York City's five boroughs. Parochial education outperformed the nation's largest school system "in every instance," they found -- and it did it at less than half the cost per student.
"Everyone has been conned -- you can give public schools all the money in America, and it will not be enough," says Ben Chavis, a former public school principal who now runs the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, Calif. His school spends thousands less per student than Oakland's government-run schools spend.
Chavis saves money by having students help clean the grounds and set up for lunch. "We don't have a full-time janitor," he told me. "We don't have security guards. We don't have computers. We don't have a cafeteria staff." Since Chavis took over four years ago, his school has gone from being among the worst middle schools in Oakland to the one where the kids get the best test scores. "I see my school as a business," he said. "And my students are the shareholders. And the families are the shareholders. I have to provide them with something."