In their July 6 op-ed column, "Choosing Prisoners Over Pupils," Andrew Block and Virginia Weisz paint a simple picture of budget priorities sadly askew.

If improving education were as simple as writing a bigger check, the prescription the writers describe would be a no-brainer.

But the counterintuitive truth is that above a minimal spending level that is already met by every state, increasing per-student funding for public education does not improve the quality of a state's student performance.

Indeed, superimposing a graph of per-student funding by state over a graph of each state's SAT scores shows no correlation.

The best and most relevant example of this was ignored by Mr. Block and Ms. Weisz: The District spends far more per student that any other state on public education ($13,187 per student in 2002; New Jersey was a distant second at $11,546), but its students had the lowest SAT scores in both math and verbal in 2003 (a dismal 474 and 484, respectively).

If increasing spending on schools were the magic cure, I'd be for it -- but it doesn't do the trick.

Instead of mechanically increasing spending as a solution to our edu- cational problems, we should be encouraging better student and parental habits and experimenting with school choice options, such as vouchers.

We all want fewer students to wind up as prisoners, but simply cutting a larger check doesn't make the grade.

MATT GAFFNEY

Washington