Education

More Money Does Not Equal Better Public Schools

Education policy meets Economics 101.

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The Virginia Education Association and others have pointed out that state spending per student has fallen in recent years. Adjusted for inflation, it's now at least 16 percent lower than it was in 2008-09. This is presented as grim news—a dark sign that the state's public schools are falling behind, perhaps coming to a breaking point.

If so, then word has yet to reach the Virginia Department of Education. In October, the department boasted that students in the commonwealth are doing better on the SATs: "Virginia 2014 public school graduates achieved significant gains and outperformed their peers nationwide on the SAT, according to results released today by the College Board."

Virginians are ahead of the pack by 23 points in reading, 11 points in math, and 15 points in writing. That announcement came shortly after the VDOE announced that the statewide on-time graduation rate was approaching 90 percent, and that seven public schools had received National Blue Ribbon awards from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Last August, the department sent out a press release celebrating the fact that "Student achievement improved during 2013-14 on challenging mathematics Standards of Learning" — along with another cheering the news that "Virginia students outperformed their peers nationwide by significant margins on the ACT this year as the number of the commonwealth's high school seniors taking the college-admissions examination continued to grow."

Meanwhile, the VEA insists "our public schools are in serious need" because of the "dangerously downward trend in state spending on public schools."

The group isn't quite so quick to point out a big offsetting factor: In Virginia, localities pay 51 cents of every dollar spent on the schools, and the federal government pays another 8 cents. So a 16 percent cut in state funding per pupil does not mean a 16 percent cut in total funding per pupil.

As PolitiFact Virginia noted when it verified the VEA's claim, "Data taking into account all three money sources shows an average total of $11,316 was spent per Virginia student in the 2008-09 school year and that fell to $11,257 in 2012-13, the latest year available. When adjusted for inflation, that's an 8.6 percent drop."

That might be one reason Gov. Terry McAuliffe could announce last year that "Virginia again boasts the nation's third-highest percentage of public high school seniors qualifying for college credit on Advanced Placement examinations." And why, a month before that, the state Board of Education honored "57 schools and two school divisions for raising the academic achievement of economically disadvantaged students." And so on.

None of this should come as a big shock. The correlation between school spending and student achievement is far weaker than commonly thought. A couple of years ago, for instance, researchers studying Philadelphia reported that district "spent approximately $2,000 less per student than its peer districts and yet generated slightly better results on state tests." The Washington Post ran the story under the headline, "Surprising New Research on School Funding."

Why surprising? Since 1970, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil has doubled. Class sizes have shrunk. Yet academic gains haven't come close to keeping pace. If test scores don't soar when spending does, then why should they plunge when spending plunges?

It is not mere coincidence that similar patterns show up in health care, which—like schooling—is heavily dominated by government involvement. And as the push for health care reform gained steam in 2009, supporters took to pointing out seemingly curious data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. They showed huge variations in Medicare outlays without any corresponding variations in health outcomes. As Atul Gawande wrote in The New Yorker, "The more money Medicare spent per person in a given state, the lower that state's quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending — Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida — were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care."

It's much the same with education. New York and New Jersey spend a similarly high sum per pupil: more than $19,000 a year. Forty-three percent of New Jersey eighth-graders are proficient or better in reading; 33 percent of New York's are. Thirty-three is also the same percentage of reading-proficient eighth-graders in Utah, which spends less than $7,300 per pupil. Indiana spends about $8,000 and comes in just behind Utah. Rhode Island, which comes in several points behind both of them, spends more than twice as much as they do: nearly $18,000 per pupil.

One possible rebuttal to all of this might be that Virginia's overall 8 percent cut in per-pupil funding will show up later. Perhaps kids who are in third grade now will perform worse in eighth grade than they otherwise would. Perhaps today's eighth-graders will do worse in 12th grade, and so on. But that's just speculation. So far, performance hasn't suffered from cuts.

Another response would tender the observation that teacher pay is often wretched. Some educators qualify for food stamps. The other day a Chesterfield teacher told county leaders his salary makes his children eligible for free school lunches. Teachers should indeed be paid better—and it's worth asking why they haven't gained more from the big increases in education spending over the past few decades. Surely some of the funds that go to expanding central office bureaucracies should go to the classroom instead.

That's an argument about equity, though—not effectiveness. If you're a teacher struggling to pay the bills every month, the 16 percent drop in state spending on schools is an outrage. But if you're a taxpayer struggling to pay the bills every month, getting the same benefit at a lower cost looks like a pretty good deal.

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81 responses to “More Money Does Not Equal Better Public Schools

  1. For RC Dean – it’s been awhile:

    A. Barton Hinkleheimerschmidt
    His name is my name, too!
    Whhenever we go out
    people always shout,
    “There goes A. Barton Hinkleheimerschmidt!”
    LALALALALALALA!!!

    You’re welcome

    1. hinklejeimerschmidt? (jingleheimer…)

      1. Hey! It’s MY joke, I spell it MY way!

        Ja? Ja!

  2. quick googling only got me a graph for public univ. spending per pupil in VA.

    Guess what year had a huge spike?

    1. Stimulus year?

      1. I wasn’t attempting to make a Stimulus connection, just a connection to the 2008-2009 period presented in the intro. My point being that doomsaying about reductions from a recent aberrant peak is retarded. My other point being that an accompanying graph woulda been nice.

        1. Ah, good point

        2. It may be retarded, but it cost the Gov. of Penna. his job in the recent election. And the same editorials that blasted him, as did his Dem. opponent, for raising the gas tax, are now gushing over the big fund that has been raised to solve our crumbling infrastructure problem.

          1. …”are now gushing over the big fund that has been raised to solve our crumbling infrastructure problem.”

            If it’s anything like CA, that fund is replacing the big fund that was voted for that use and somehow ended up funding non-profit grief-counseling centers which somehow employ the same people who walk the streets pimping the politicos during the election season.

    2. Hitler?

      (I was told “Hitler” is always the answer to these questions)

      /unclear on the concept

      1. Sorry, the answer we were looking for was 19Hitler A.D.

  3. “The other day a Chesterfield teacher told county leaders his salary makes his children eligible for free school lunches. Teachers should indeed be paid better?and it’s worth asking why they haven’t gained more from the big increases in education spending over the past few decades. Surely some of the funds that go to expanding central office bureaucracies should go to the classroom instead.”

    Here’s a reason why I’m not that worked up by pubsec unions in general. Sure, they want to take my money for something I don’t think government should be doing at all, so I’m no fan. But that’s true for a lot of groups, and if anything unions like teachers unions seem to be worse at this than some other interest groups that really rake in my dollars. If anything, if I had to have my money taken to buy iPads, pay school administrators like kings or pay to build some fancy new school buildings vs. paying the actual teachers more I’d opt for the later. If I thought teachers unions were taking their slice of the pie from those groups it’d be less bothersome.

    1. One increasingly bad trend imo is these institutions and organizations where staff employees are starting to figure more than line employees.

      A lot of that is due to government of course (you need special counselors and human resource people etc., etc., to keep in compliance with the ever growing number of state and federal regulations).

      1. staff employees line employees is already a problem in higher education, but no one can figure out why tuition keeps rising.

        1. staff employees line employees

          1. goddam it….
            staff employees greater than line employees

            1. No. You had it correct the first time.

    2. The problem with unions is that they protect the incompetent. I’ve got a kid who is going to public schools next year, and I’m not looking forward to it. Luckily I live in an area where the schools are comparatively good, but still. As far as private school options go, I’ve got a cult masquerading as a Baptist church, and a prep school where the tuition is roughly equal to my income. So public schools it is. I just hope the kid gets lucky and doesn’t get stuck with incompetent union hacks for teachers.

      1. Good luck. Ours are now 27, 23 and 20, so we’re done with public schools. They all survived, but it’s getting so bad now…my son (the youngest) just made it out without succumbing to the derp.

        Fortunately, he’s thriving in [private] college.

        So, seriously, good luck with your kids and school.

        1. Yeah. They’re all about the Common Core at this one. And proud of it. Ugh. I just hope I can deprogram the kid before it’s too late.

        2. And keep in mind at all times; you do not work for them, they work for you. This is a problem with all kinds of government employees (a minority of all government employees, but MY they can muck up a system), but teachers seem to get it bad.

          When I was a tad, we got a Principle in our local middle school who had the “I’m a Professional Educator. I know what’s best far better than you peasants.” to an ostentatious degree. Pity for her that the district had the faculty of four colleges living in it.

          She didn’t last.

      2. “The problem with unions is that they protect the incompetent. ”

        I’m sure that happens, but honestly I think government employment does that union or no. Here in SC pubsec unions are not allowed so much but we still have comparably incompetent government employees. It’s the lack of a disciplining profit motive that makes government so tolerant of incompetence more than anything else.

        1. I think government employment does that union or no.

          Unions make it worse. Much, much worse.

          1. I guess it coordinates them and they might have some legal advantages, but really, here police unions are barred but they still organize in associations, exert considerable influence and get contracts with benefits and protections a plenty.

            1. I guess you missed the chart that they post on this site that illustrates the process for firing a union teacher.

            2. and that’s where GOPers like Christie and perhaps Walker lose what support might have existed for them here. They love to take on teachers unions; they basically blow cops and firefighters. Not exactly a principled stance.

              1. In fairness to them cops and firefighters are more popular with the voting public

                1. that may be but if you’re going to oppose public sector unions, be intellectually honest about it. The right loves to beat up teachers, the left loves to beat up on cops. Both FDR and George Meaney saw no place the unionization in the public arena.

      3. Good luck.

        The public schools where I grew up were overpriced, glorified babysitting operations. I know some bright and skilled folks that came out of those schools. Those folks would have succeeded no matter where they went to school.

    3. The other day a Chesterfield teacher told county leaders his salary makes his children eligible for free school lunches.

      Either he is lying or everyone is eligible for free school lunch.

      http://mychesterfieldschools.c…..yScale.pdf

      1. I think its the everyone is eligible. One of my former neighbors taught in Chesterfield and always complained about not making enough money. As she walked into her $400k house.

    4. Except, it isn’t just the salaries.

      It’s the salaries.

      And the dwindling class sizes. And the demands for increased funding that incur greater monitoring costs (e.g. more administrators). And tenure. And…well you get the picture.

    5. you should be worked up about public unions for a few basic reasons:
      –as sarc points out, they protect the lousy. It’s not just teachers, it is also cops.
      –second, there is one group of public employees negotiating with another group of public employees over how much of a third party’s money will be in play. YOU, the taxpayer, are not represented.

      What the principal failed to point, and what no educrat will discuss, is the very high salaries people like him make, not to mention the administrative bloat that has occurred in the past few decades. He whines about teacher pay while surrounded by a phalanx is six figure bureaucrats whose contribution to any child’s education is non-existent.

      1. “YOU, the taxpayer, are not represented.”

        Well, your elected representative is supposed to represent you there…

        1. would that be the elected representative who draws a large campaign contribution from one of the parties involved or the representative who campaigns is funded in part by the other party?

          1. That’s true for any contributor who also gets a government check though.

            1. I’ll try again:
              two groups of public employees debating over how much of YOUR money to take from you. Do you see the problem yet?

              1. I don’t see how that’s worse than any government benefit recipient who supports my representative and my rep sitting down to discuss how much of my money the former is to get

                1. I don’t see how that’s worse than any government benefit recipient who supports my representative and my rep sitting down to discuss how much of my money the former is to get

                  So, in other words, it’s no worse than the usual lobbying, cronyism, and special interests.

                  It’s no better, either.

        2. Ever been to a school board meeting? They don’t give a shit about the people they supposedly represent.
          Our daycare is about a half mile across the town line. The school bus turns around literally across the street. A dozen families petitioned the school board to allow the bus to drop kids off there so we wouldn’t have to find new daycare and all that, but it only took one bitch on the council to nix it. She didn’t give a shit about the people, and said as much. She was protecting local daycare businesses from the hoards of new daycare centers that would spring up on every street just over the town line, putting local businesses out of work. Seriously, that’s what she said. Bitch.

          1. But this illustrated my point. In this case it was not the pubsec contributor who the rep through the represented under the bus but the daycares.

            1. There’s a large family round here that owns most of the businesses, including one of the daycare centers. She married into that family. She is protecting her and her family’s interests, at the expense of the people she is supposed to represent.

              1. Ugh, the worst kind of cronyism: nepotism

        3. Bo Cara Esq.

          “YOU, the taxpayer, are not represented.”

          Well, your elected representative is supposed to represent you there…

          Awww, that’s adorable.

    6. if I had to have my money taken to buy iPads, pay school administrators like kings or pay to build some fancy new school buildings vs. paying the actual teachers more I’d opt for the later.

      Give me the iPads.

    7. Re: Bo Cara Esq.

      Sure, they want to take my money for something I don’t think government should be doing at all, so I’m no fan. But that’s true for a lot of groups

      Notwithstanding the fact that you stoically accept the reality of being poked in the ass constantly, wouldn’t you still agree that the taking of your property by force, for whatever reason, is wrong?

      1. I’m not happy about the poking just not particularly upset about certain pokers…

        1. thanks for giving life to sarc’s principles vs principals argument.

          1. I mean I’m not more upset about one particular poker than any other

            1. You will arbitrarily be upset about whatever the ideologues tell you to be upset about. That’s — this much upset for a trillion dollars in Halliburton war profiteering, and —————– this much upset that a teacher somewhere is making more than $10/hour.

              1. No. We are uset when a teacher’s pay includes at least $0.01/hr that was forcibly taken via the coercive tax system. I think you will find it difficult to find anyone here (other than those of your ilk such as PB, as, and possibly craig) that would dissapprove of a teacher earning any amount when it is at a non-public institution (that doesn’t receive public funds).

                1. …”other than those of your *ilk* such”…

                  I think it’s spelled “slime”.

                  1. I wonder of one of them is Michael Skakel.

    8. “Here’s a reason why I’m not that worked up by pubsec unions in general. … if anything unions like teachers unions seem to be worse at this than some other interest groups that really rake in my dollars. ”

      Nationwide across all levels of government, education is a huge chunk of the budget.

      Be that as it may, I’m not so upset with the teachers unions for being one of the government enabled aristocracy that we peasants must support.

      But they make their money by destroying the futures of millions of children a year. That’s where their evil lies.

  4. Terry McAuliffe is the absolute worst.

    1. He’s a carpetbagging, crooked, worthless no account sonofabitch.

      1. Well, yeah – but other than THAT…

  5. Don’t do it to yourselves, people. You know by now what will happen, and you still do it. JUST SAY NO.

    1. Some of us are slow learners in this regard.

      *Points at self and makes mental note to learn more quickly*

    2. I LEARNED IT FROM YOU, WARTY! I LEARNED IT FROM YOU!!!

      OK, not really…

    3. I found him immediately tedious. All these months later, nice to see my gut was right.

  6. If you’re a teacher struggling to pay the bills every month –

    – either find a different line of work or cut your costs.

    1. Alt Ending:

      “…you’re a moron.”

    2. I once was involved with evaluating the water system at a small mobile home park that was owned by a medical doctor. He was earning about $500k/yr at his “day” job. He lost the park because he couldn’t make payments on the bank note. He truely was struggling to pay the bills every month.

  7. I’ve had public school teacher supporters claim that test scores don’t matter.

    I made a claim that public schools and their employees get paid no matter what. I used as proof how some big spending schools got terrible scores on some standardized tests, and had citations. The immediate response was, “Because test scores are such a great measure of teacher success! It’s been proven it’s not!” I never asked for a citation, but should have. I expect I would have gotten crickets in response had I done that.

    I did point out that all he was doing was making excuses for teachers failing to teach. All of his responses from then on out were more excuses for teachers that fail to teach students, and that those teachers really aren’t failing to teach students. Right, so teachers can’t be held to standards, and so get paid no matter what.

  8. My wife had some Hallmark or Lifetime movie on the other day, and one of the characters was complaining how he and his wife were just getting by..on two teacher’s salaries. The tone implied somehow that two salaries was twice as bad as one teacher’s salary. Thus the power of TV to perpetuate Myths (the penurious Teacher, the heroic cop, the noble farmer) and you can’t fight the Myth.

    1. Is there anywhere anymore where teachers don’t make more than the median income. I’ve known a lot of teachers over the years and not one of them was at all struggling.

      1. I believe teachers starting out don’t make so much.

        Teacher’s are a vested gentry living off the backs of the peasants, and like most such rackets, it takes a while to vest.

        1. I believe teachers starting out don’t make so much.

          Wahh… join the club. Not everybody makes a “living wage” out of college.

    2. “Thus the power of TV to perpetuate Myths ….”

      Ah, yes, Myth Directions.

      – Aahzmandius

  9. Again – my wife’s a teacher. Well – she was. She finally left – “retired” a couple years ago, much to my surprise – b/c she couldn’t stand the derp.

    My mom also worked in the public schools till she retired. My wife worked in a private school for a couple years – the difference was astounding. She loved the private school. Unfortunately, they couldn’t compete at a price people would pay, soooo….

    Long story short – in my experience, everything in public schools is so fucked up – starting with administrations, teachers, staff, extending to school boards and PTA’s, that I’m just glad my kids got out relatively unscathed and all did/are doing well in college.

    I graduated from HS (public) in 1980 – it seemed only mildly fucked up back then. I actually had some really, really great teachers (and only a couple duds). Now it seems turned on its head.

    I think they whole model is fucked and cannot be fixed. Need to start over, which will never happen. So “Idiocracy” will become a prescient documentary at some point…

  10. Never forget the notorious Kansas City School Debacle. It should have put to rest, forever, the notion of more money equals smarter kids:

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

    Hopefully, Judge Russell Clark burns in Hell.

  11. my mum in-law recently got a nice twelve month old Cadillac CTS Vsport Premium only from working parttime off a laptop
    ?????? http://www.jobsblaze.com

  12. The best way to address the many and significant deficiencies in public schools is to remove all of the funding.

  13. I’ve never understood why they measure spending in per-pupil terms. The pupils don’t get any money. In any debate over a school referendum, I insist that the measure be “per teacher” or “per administrator,” since they’re the ones taking the money home.

    You’d be surprised how quickly the emotions change, when you take away the “FOR TEH CHIDRENS!” perspective and go with “SUPE NEEDS ANOTHER BEEMER!” in its place. Really focuses people on what’s important.

  14. my classmate’s ex-wife makes $72 every hour on the internet . She has been unemployed for six months but last month her check was $13076 just working on the internet for a few hours?????? http://www.jobsblaze.com

  15. More money NEVER means better schools. NEVER. Better schools begin
    when parents take an active part in their children’s education by (1)
    seeing that their children attend school and do assigned homework; (2)
    insist that better teachers be hired if necessary; (3) are generally
    actively involved in the whole schooling process; and (4) push their
    children hard to be successful academically.

  16. The logic of this article- they’re cutting spending in Virginia and results are improving- is misleading. The goal isn’t to just tread water or improve slowly. The goal needs to be rapid improvement. We are competing against countries whose educations are rapidly improving. Much more rapidly than education in the US.

    Also, just looking at one state is pretty questionable. VA is presently going through a hell of a transition at present from being largely a rural agricultural state to being an urban high tech state. You can’t really look at the results without taking that into account.

    States that spend more on education tend to have more people with advanced degrees, more inventions, more cutting edge companies, and ultimately, more income- http://politicsthatwork.com/bl…..states.php

    1. Interesting. So correlation DOES equal causation after all. Thanks for clearing that up.

  17. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

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