Jay Mathews Inspires My Radical Ideas to Spend $100 Billion on Education

In today’s Washington Post, education columnist Jay Mathews raises the question: If you had $100 billion to fix our schools, what would you do?

Faithful readers know I was skeptical of the federal government’s “magical money tree” a few months ago. My sentiment hasn’t changed. Some ideas for spending 100 billion (that’s a 1 followed by 11 zeroes) new smackeroos in the education bureaucracy inevitably will be better than others, and some may end up yielding some positive results.

In his column, Mathews grades five proposals for spending the money, realistically noting of those who submitted the proposals:

Their goal is to get the biggest change by January 2012. I think they are dreaming. The federal stimulus is designed to save jobs, not raise student achievement. But some (not all) of the ideas are so good some states might (repeat, might) be tempted to try them.

To rate the five proposals yourself, as well as five others Mathews invented, check out his blog post. Some of the ideas are more worthy of support than others, but I have two more radical proposals that alternatively could be pursued. Either:

  • Send the $100 billion directly to the largest number of families possible on a means-tested basis as an education voucher to select the public or private education option of their choice … The competition might inspire school districts to do something more significant than spend cash on marketing infomercials; OR
  • Spread the $100 billion among key politicians at the national, state, and local level to ensure they will support universal vouchers funding students based on need, rather than kowtow to the political funds of the union … Okay, so it may not be a strictly legal approach, but it takes into account the real problems posed by public choice theory

The first alternative is my preference. The second is mainly provocative. Say what you will, but either of my proposals would inspire more competitive and lasting change than any or all of the other ideas currently being bandied about.

What would you do for the education system with $100 billion? Vote on the priorities and leave your own comments with Jay Mathews — author of the compelling new book Work Hard. Be Nice.