Education Spending Increases While Results Stagnate

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Education spending by individual states has disproportionately ballooned since 1969. By 2009-2010, most states had increased education spending by well over 100 percent. However, the higher spending rates was not evenly distributed around the country.

For the figures that were compiled by Education Week, the starting point was 1969 because that is the first year data was available for state-by-state comparisons. In that year, $4,000 was the difference between the high and low spenders on education. In 2009-2010, the difference was approximately $14,000. The District of Columbia spent the most per student, $20,910. That is 585.8 percent higher than what it spent in 1969. Utah spent the least, $6,237 in 2009-2010, an 173.1 percent increase.

The top five spenders were D.C., New York ($18,167), New Jersey ($17,379), Vermont ($15,837), and Alaska ($15,829); at the bottom were Utah, Idaho ($7,100), Oklahoma ($7,929), Arizona ($7,968), and Mississippi ($8,194). Many states at the bottom end are trying to catch up to higher spending levels. In Mississippi for example, spending was up by 431 percent, a larger percentage increase than in New York or Alaska. With the exception of Utah, all states in the bottom five raised spending by over 200 percent since 1969, but were unable to match the ground of states that started with higher budgets.

Trying to unpick the spending data for results is frustrating. A comparison of standardized test scores between the top and bottom spenders – Washington, D.C. and Utah – results in an inverse of expectations. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (or, NAEP) is a continual assessment of American students. Uniform tests are administered, and results can be compared by state.

Utah, who spent the least in education spending in the 2009-2010 period, tended to score higher than the national averages, except in fourth and eighth grade writing. Washington, D.C. pupils had scores lower than the national averages. Utah has more schools and students, but fewer teachers than Washington. Even when federal revenues are added to the equation, Utah still spends less per pupil than Washington, DC.

Results for the schools rounding out the top five are more in-line with expectations. Although Alaska had mixed results when compared to the national average, New York, New Jersey, and Vermont generally scored above. The states spending the least had, on average, subpar results. Certain scores jumped ahead of national figures, but for the most part, remained below the mean. The exception to this was Idaho.

The spending paradox is visible internationally as well. The United States spends more on education per student than any other developed country in the world, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (or, OECD). The report pegs federal per student spending in the U.S. at about $15,171 per student. The OECD average was $9,313. Even with a hefty education price tag, students in the U.S. do not out-perform their international peers.

Results from the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (or, PISA) were announced in December 2013. The test is administered once every three years to 15-year-olds, and assesses student literacy in math, reading, and science. In the 2012 round of testing, 65 countries participated from nations in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Oceania. The U.S.’ PISA scores were average at best. Science and reading scores were “not measurably different from the OECD average,” but math was below average, 481 versus 494.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida all tested more students than the rest of the nation, which provided a way to measure these states against the international data. In every category, Massachusetts and Connecticut scored higher than the national average, and Florida often lagged behind. In 2009-2010, Massachusetts and Connecticut outspent Florida at the state-level, and the percentage spent on spending increased at a higher rate during the 50 years under analysis.

Connecticut spent the most out of the three, $15,698. Massachusetts followed close behind with $14,699. At $8,863 per pupil, Florida was not even close. In domestic testing, Connecticut and Massachusetts were always above the national average. Florida’s results were not as even, occasionally above average, but often below and near national scores.

Standardized tests should not be a limitation placed on students, and simply increasing the money spent per student is unlikely to yield the necessary results. Instead, how the money is being spent ought to be considered.

David Sciarra, the Executive Director of the Education Law Center, discussed the per state spending discrepancies. ”The amount of funding that schools have within states to support their needs remains, by and large across the country, irrational,” Sciarra told Eduction Week. ”Many states continue to resist doing the work of connecting their school finance formula, [and] their school funding, to the actual cost of delivering rigorous standards to give all kids the chance to achieve those standards.”

Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University believes money has been misallocated on education. High increases in spending have been met by standardized test scores that are “pretty flat.” There has not been a scores spike in states spending more money. ”On average, we haven’t spent the money very well,” Hanushek said. “We’re still missing linking spending to outcomes.” Worse yet, states are changing policies and accountability systems without putting finance into the equation. He said that such “decisions have been divorced from any discussion about finance,” he said. “There’s no funding behind them.”

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