Student performance, education funding at odds
A review by the American Media Institute finds that school systems in the heartland of the U.S. are managing to maintain a high quality of education while paring costs.
The review, using U.S. Census figures on per-pupil funding and an education quality study released this month by fiscal research website WalletHub, shows that three of the top 15 states ranked for quality had cut spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) between 2010 and 2014, while two others increased spending by less than 1 percent.
The top ranked state, Massachusetts, bumped its education spending 2.3 percent in 2014, while Connecticut, which increased its spending the most of all states at 9.6 percent, ranks second in the WalletHub research.
Wisconsin decreased education spending 9.3 percent and ranked fifth on the WalletHub chart, while Indiana cut spending 8.5 percent and ranked 12th.
Three states that enacted double-digit cuts to education spending, Idaho, Arizona and West Virginia, all finished in the bottom 20 in the rankings.
New York at $20,610, and the District of Columbia, at $18,485, spent the most per pupil in 2014 overall spending on education.
The District spent $1,636 per student, or almost 9 percent, on administrative costs, almost 30 percent above the national average of seven percent. The District ranked 47th on the WalletHub survey.
It was one of 13 states that spent more than $1,000 per pupil on administrative costs. Administration is 4.4 percent of the per-pupil spend in Massachusetts, second lowest in the U.S.. Only New York, at 3.7 per cent, is lower.
New York has led the U.S. in spending-per-pupil since 2011. It ranked 25th on the WalletHub list.
The national average for 2014 was $11,009 per student.
Utah ranked at the bottom in per-pupil funding for 2014 at $6,500 and ranked 18th on WalletHub.
Researchers for years have conducted studies trying to determine if spending on education produces academic results, without reaching a consensus.
A study in 2014 by the Center for American Progress found that some school districts with the biggest expenditures posted mediocre results.
“…Only slightly more than one-third of the districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement,” the report’s authors wrote.
A report last year from the National Bureau of Economic Research claimed that a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending leads to more completed years of education and a higher wage.
"Spending increases were associated with notable improvements in measured school inputs, including reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years," said the study, conducted by three academics from Northwestern University and University of California at Berkeley.
That view is opposed by some, who deny the money-performance connection.
“There is no credible scholarly evidence that shows that increasing education funding leads to increased student performance,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director for the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Ariz.
The higher spending in places like the East Coast, including New York, Massachusetts and Washington D.C. reflects the higher cost of living and politically powerful teacher unions, Butcher said.
Federal funding, he said, has remained the same in adjusted dollars for some time, having leveled off since the economic downturn in 2008.
While the debate remains over whether more money means better student performance, Butcher predicted federal funding will increase when the economy turns around