Should Obama cut $8 billion in foreign aid to protect 20 American schoolchildren?

Should Obama cut $8 billion in foreign aid to protect 20 American schoolchildren?

I don’t have much to say about NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s remarks about the Newtown shooting. I’ll leave that to the domestic guys. But my ears did perk up at this bit:

With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

Grousing about how much taxpayer money goes to foreign aid is one of America’s great traditions. But Americans tend to have a wildly exaggerated sense of how much they spend on foreign aid each year. There are many different ways to count, but $50 billion is a good ballpark estimate, when you include military aid and various programs spread across the U.S. federal government. You could also exclude the military stuff and just count the State Department and USAID budgets, which works out to around the same amount. Either way, it’s roughly 1 percent of the budget — not 25 percent, as Americans routinely tell pollsters.

How much would it cost to put "a police officer in every school?" According to economist Justin Wolfers, about $8 billion annually. On average, he says, around 20 kids are killed in schools each year. "Implies: $400m per *potential* kid saved," he tweets.

So, would Americans be willing to take $8 billion out of the annual foreign aid budget and devote it to possibly saving 20 kids per year? I suspect many parents will take that trade, but to a policymaker, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Oh, and one more thing: Columbine High School had armed guards.