Per-pupil spending as nearly tripled over the last 40 years. While some states have shown improvements in student achievement, others have remained stagnant. These observations were noted in a new study, "Return on Educational Investment," released Jan. 19 by the Center for American Progress. The study, which examined over 9,000 major districts in the United States, attempted to measure district productivity in relation to spending on education, while controlling for outside factors such as percentage of students in poverty. (The Center for American Progress received the data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the New America Foundation.) Summary findings included:
- Many school districts could boost student achievement without having to increase spending if they used their money more productively.
- Efficiency varies widely within states.
- Low productivity in districts costs the nation's school system an estimated $175 billion each year.
- Without controls on how additional school dollars are spent, more education spending will not automatically improve student outcomes.
- More than 1 million students are enrolled in highly inefficient schools.
- States and districts fail to evaluate the productivity of schools and districts.
"We know that expenditures have an impact on student achievement, but money only matters when it's spent wisely," says Ulrich Boser, author of the study and senior fellow with the Center for American Progress.
According to Boser, the goal of this study is not to draw conclusions as to why one district was more productive than the other, but to generate a national conversation surrounding educational productivity. "This is more about moving away from the old model," says Boser.
Two districts compared in the study were Oshkosh (Wis.) Area Schools and Eau Claire (Wis.) Public Schools. Each district in central Wisconsin has roughly 10,000 students and 30 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced- price lunches, and test scores and student achievement levels are similar. The notable difference, according to the study, is that Eau Claire spends $330 more per student each year—or roughly $3 million total. The study notes that Eau Claire may be getting value elsewhere for its additional spending but that student outcome appears to be roughly the same. Oshkosh spent 65 percent of its budget on costs associated with teaching, while Eau Claire spent just 59 percent.
"These different priorities have a large impact on the districts' budgets," says the report. "Eau Claire is spending more to get largely similar outcomes, and taxpayers should be asking why."
To read the full report, visit www.americanprogress.org.