From a Heritage Foundation research report, repeating much of what Commissioner Mitchell Chester at the State of Mass Department of Education said:
What is clear from these competing findings is that policymakers should seriously consider improving how to allocate educational resources more effectively.
The evidence about Education spending and achievement leads to the following important lessons:
- American spending on public K-12 education is at an all-time high and is still rising. Polls show that many people believe that a lack of resources is a primary problem facing public schools. Yet spending on American K-12 public Education is at an all-time high. Approximately $9,300 is spent per pupil. Real spending per student has increased by 23.5 percent over the past decade and by 49 percent over the past 20 years.
- Continuous spending increases have not corresponded with equal improvement in American educational performance. Long-term measures of American students’ academic achievement, such as long-term NAEP reading scale scores and high school graduation rates, show that the performance of American students has not improved dramatically in recent decades, despite substantial spending increases. The lack of a correlation between long-term Education spending and performance does not suggest that resources are not a factor in academic performance, but it does suggest that simply increasing spending is unlikely to improve educational performance.
- Increasing federal funding on Education has not been followed by similar gains in student achievement. Federal spending on elementary and secondary Education has also increased significantly in recent decades. Since 1985, real federal spending on K-12 education has increased by 138 percent. On a per-student basis, federal spending on K-12 education has tripled since 1970. Yet, long-term measures of American students’ academic achievement have not seen similar increases. Long-term test scores among specific student populations, including ethnic minorities that have been a main focus of federal Education policy, have improved some. However, the achievement gaps among white, black, and Hispanic students persist in test scores and graduation rates.
- Education reform efforts should focus on improving resource allocation. Instead of simply increasing funding, efforts to improve education should focus on improving resource allocation. Chart 5 compares high graduation rates and per-student expenditures in the nation’s 50 largest cities. In many cities, spending per student exceeds $10,000 per year, yet graduation rates are below 50 percent. For example, in Detroit, per-student spending is approximately $11,100 per year, yet only 25 percent of Detroit’s students are graduating from high school according to a recent estimate. In these communities and across the country, policymakers should focus on reforming policies and resource allocation to improve student achievement.
The high and increasing percentage of funding that is allocated to non-classroom expenditures is evidence of the need to improve resource allocation in the nation’s public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 52 percent of public Education expenditures are spent on instruction. This percentage has been slowly decreasing over recent decades.
One promising way to improve resource allocation is to give parents the ability to use their children’s share of public Education funding to choose the right school for their children. Children benefiting from school choice programs have higher test scores than their peers who do not benefit from school choice. Moreover, public schools affected by school choice policies improve their performance in response to competition created by parents’ ability to choose alternative schools for their children.
What Federal and State Policymakers Should Do
Federal and state policymakers should resist proposals to increase funding for public education. Historical trends and other evidence suggest that simply increasing funding for public elementary and secondary Education has not led to corresponding improvement in academic achievement. Instead of simply increasing funding for Education, policymakers and school leaders should implement education reforms that improve resource allocation.
Members of Congress and federal policymakers should embrace reforms that reduce bureaucracy, streamline regulations, and transfer greater authority over funding to the state and local levels.
State policymakers should implement systemic Education reforms that improve resource allocation and encourage effective school leadership, such as expanding school choice options for families and attracting and retaining effective schoolteachers.
Taxpayers have invested considerable resources in the nation’s public schools. However, ever-increasing funding of Education has not led to similarly improved student performance. Instead of simply increasing funding for public Education, federal and state policymakers should implement Education reforms designed to improve resource allocation and boost student performance.
Dan Lips is Senior Policy Analyst in Education in the Domestic Policy Studies Department, Shanea J. Watkins, Ph.D., is Policy Analyst in Empirical Studies in the Center for Data Analysis, and John Fleming is Senior Data Graphics Editor at The Heritage Foundation