Both Republicans and Democrats like to brag about how much they want to spend on public schools, and most voters buy the line that more funding will improve outcomes in the classroom. Politicians highlight their support for increasing funds to public education, as it wins votes and gets the support of the powerful teachers’ unions.
As a past local public-school board member, I want to know what the facts show. What kind of results are we getting for our tax dollars? Does spending more per student really increase graduation rates and elevate SAT scores at the end of the elementary/secondary public-school process?
Data recently available through public records, through the 2015 Census for each state, give us some answers.
Here we go: New York ranks No. 1 in spending per/student ($21,206) and ranks a low 38th in the percentage of students who graduate from high school, and 40th in SAT scores. Washington, D.C. ranks third in spending per pupil, but ranks 24th in high school graduation rate and dead last (51st) in SAT scores. Yet Colorado ranks a low 39th in spending per student, 14th in high school graduation rate and 15th in SAT scores. Then there is Utah, which ranks 51st, or the lowest in spending per pupil ($6,575), and yet ranks 10th in high school graduation rate and 10th in SAT scores.
Where does California stand? Well, about in the middle, in spending at 29th ($10,467 per pupil) but dead last (51st) in high school graduation rate and a low 39th in SAT scores.
It is clear that more tax dollars spent on public schools do not necessarily translate into better results for the students. One can plot the data for all 50 states (and the District of Columbia), and this is the conclusion: There is no correlation between spending more per student and improved academic results in public K-12 grade schools. Be suspicious when the public-school teachers’ union wants to increase taxes; the lion’s share will go to fund teacher pensions, not for more help in the classrooms.
The results coming out of our public schools are abysmal. Is it any wonder that those Californians with sufficient funds place their children in private or charter schools? Is it now understandable why Libertarians are pushing for government school financial vouchers that help impower lower-income parents, giving them a financial choice to also select a private school alternative for their children?
Money alone will not solve the problem of low-achieving California public schools. Parent involvement in schools and with their own children’s education is part of the answer, and so is choice in school selection.
Bringing union rules into the 21st century is also part of the solution. Apathetic and incompetent teachers need to be culled more easily; teacher pay should be based on merit, not simply longevity.
Let’s stop bragging about how much or how little money is spent in our schools, and start spending the money we do have in ways that improve classroom outcomes.