If we spend more, will we get better schools?

In the last 20 years, I’ve attended so many seminars and read so many reports on school financing I could have earned a college minor by now. However, I remain unresolved on several big questions.

  1. Does more money lead to improved academic outcomes?
  2. Is it wiser to fund schools through the state to assure equity or through locally raised taxes with supplemental funding from the state to minimize disparities? (The latter is basically what Georgia does.)
  3. Should we set a baseline level of resources for all schools but allow communities to exceed that level if they’re willing to pay additional taxes? Or should that extra funding be outlawed to avoid the allegation that zip codes unfairly influence school resources?
  4. Is it better to prescribe how spending decisions are made – which Georgia used to do under the contention too much money went to central offices and too little to classrooms — or should spending be determined by educators on the front lines? (When I mentioned this idea to some teachers, they said it presumed competent principals, which is not always the case.)

Those of us still grappling with how best to fund schools shouldn’t feel so bad. The experts aren’t that certain, either.

I tuned in today to an interesting panel on school financing by the Urban Institute featuring Ary Amerikaner, director, P–12 Resource Equity, the Education Trust, Marguerite Roza, director, Edunomics Lab, Georgetown University, and Daniel G. Thatcher, program director, Education Program, National Conference of State Legislatures.

The consensus: We’re still trying to figure out what works and why, what deserves more investment and what deserves less and how to replicate successful outcomes.

Marguerite Roza is Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and Senior Research Affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Considered a leading national school financing expert, Roza joked she’s devoted her lifework looking for an answer that didn’t exist. “The amount of money spent on a school does not explain as much variation in outcomes as we would like it to explain. We often see schools spend the same amount of money — even in the same way — and still get different results.”

In more than two decades of researching, Roza said she “looked and looked” to figure out that if schools spent funds in certain ways on certain program, they’d be assured a certain outcome. But no clear pathway emerged out of the financing fog.

The only consistency Roza found among schools defying the odds — doing well with average or less than average per-pupil spending — was “they were 100 percent committed to leveraging resources to get the greatest outcome possible with the dollars they had.”

The Education Trust’s Ary Amerikaner was more willing to link higher spending with better outcomes, saying, “It’s not a silver bullet, but it matters. It matters more for students who have higher needs, for students living in poverty.” And longterm investments matter more than short-term infusions of cash, such as one-time grants, she said.

In answering how much money for schools is the right amount, Daniel Thatcher of the National Conference of State Legislatures recalled the answer a researcher once gave a lawmaker who asked that question: “Whatever you have.”

States are constrained by their budgets, which is why legislatures are focused on how they can discern whether the money they send to districts gets to the students and schools that need it, said Thatcher.

That will become easier under a new federal requirement for transparency in spending down to the school level. The granular data mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act should further the research into the relationship between spending and outcomes.  (Of course, that will depend on whether there is common reporting standards to make sense of the data.)

Some other interesting points from the panel:

While there’s been concern that school fundraising by middle-class and affluent parents contributes to the inequities among schools, Roza noted the $100,000 parents may raise at a school auction is a pittance compared to a district budget of $11 or $12 billion. If we want to target inequities, she advised focusing on the uneven investment of public dollars rather than parent fundraising.

In the push to go with state-level funding of schools to promote equity, Roza pointed out taxpayers are more likely to approve local funding initiatives for schools than state ones. (In Georgia, SPLOST is the best example of that.)  Voters are less willing to trust the state. “But when you open those local spigots, ” she warned, “you are going to have those inequities.”

 

Reader Comments 0

101 comments
Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Really . . . is that all their is to a fire?  Or rather, a massive education system conflagration similar to the one that recently tore through Napa Valley leaving nothing standing in its wake?


Oh wait . . . who is that over there holding that book of matches?  Oh yeah, it's the eduacracy, like who else? . . . like, duh?  So sad. so sympathetic. If we had only had enough money to pay for putting the fires out. Clearly what we need is more funding - funding as deep as the ocean and as high as the sky, and this kind of thing will never happen again, at least not until the next time. Because, as the eduacracy is fond of  reminding us - it is all about money, and only about money. A lie with a thousand lives. 


I get it that the topic was narrow - and all about funding. But education is not, never has been, and never will be all about money, about funding. The article came off as ridiculous. Ludicrous. Comical. What kind of vacuum must you occupy to even raise this as a singular topic?  When it comes to education, family and environment trump money every time. You cannot raise this issue and have any kind of logical or reasonable discussion


All you have to do is carefully study our history, and just look around you. America has been and remains full of brilliant and very well educated people who lived in poor economic  circumstances, attended substandard schools, and whose parents didn't have two  nickels to rub together. What they did have that made all the difference was two, yes, two parents who were determined to see them educated and environment that encouraged it.   


The big gorilla sitting on the couch and the elephant standing in corner cannot be bought off. They cannot be covered up with buckets and buckets full of money, and they will never  just decide to move away.  Oh yes, you can ignore them and never discuss them and act as though they do not even exist.  But, they still have their way, and always will until they are dealt with directly, forcefully, and head on. 

RUFRUF
RUFRUF

@Ficklefan  I searched this column out to write exactly what you have written above- I spent the last 3 days with teachers from the DeKalb county school system and they ranted about the same thing- until we address, openly and honestly what you have written above- there will,be no change- NO teacher can over come the family dynamic and the importance of a home that teaches the value of an education- students getting high with their parents before school...just one of the many many examples teachers shared with me over the last 3 days- But for some odd reason Maureen- with 20 years in education refuses to acknowledge that the most important part of education is an environment that fosters the importance of education- well written Ficklefan- 

Did Maureen ever respond- I think not.

Lori Cranford Whatley
Lori Cranford Whatley

YES, if money is spent on teacher salaries. More teachers, smaller class sizes!!!!! Smaller classes = more teaching and learning and less discipline problems. It isn't rocket science.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

That's a complete fallacy.  Spending more money cannot undo the damage that "LBJ" did by promising to take care of, for life, all those babies born to babies without husbands.  Here we are over fifty years later and it's never been worse.  It's not money, it's a parental problem or rather a lack of a two parent household that's the main problem with our schools.  OUR WELFARE SYSTEM HAS TO BE OVERHAULED IN ORDER TO FIX THE PROBLEM.  We've got to QUIT paying babies to have babies.  President Donald J. Trump is trying to fix the system; however, all those obstructionists in the United States Congress don't want it fixed.  They depend on all of the welfare dependent voters to keep them in office.  MAGA

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Whenever an educrat mentions "funding" and "equity" in the same sentence, the taxpayer needs to grab hold of his wallet.  Not once in this article did it mention variances due to the ability level of the student.  Simply put, you cannot spend enough money to get a Shetland Pony to win the Kentucky Derby.


Money matters - to a certain point.  Past the optimum, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and each dollar spent thereafter results in less and less return until you finally get to the point where it doesn't matter how much more you spend, it is not going to make a difference.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@EdJohnson  Definitely LOOPY.  Maybe you should start out by advocating for AUTHENTIC education - that should involve NO grade inflation, NO social promotion, NO graduation of students who do not meet minimum requirements.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@EdJohnson  Also, school CHOICE has been going on forever - most use it by moving to the district in which they want their child to be schooled.  What is taking place now is the expansion of school choice to parents who don't have the wherewithal to move. Plus, if local schools would just reform and improve, there would not be this impetus to get out of that school.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog @EdJohnson 

AUTHENTIC Education is represented as a causal factor.  See slide 11 for the definition... Authentic Education(authentic education) – allowing for higher quality public education to emerge from pedagogical methods and practices that foster joy in teaching and learning by all involved and that restore, preserve, and actualize cooperative intrinsic motivation more so than competitive extrinsic motivation.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@EdJohnson  Looks like there was a huge decrease in achievement points when better testing is used.  Maybe the truth coming out?  By the way, PROGRESS of a sixth-grader from 2nd grade level to 3rd grade level is NOT something to cheer about. 

Quandary
Quandary




In Georgia, schools are paid for by a combination of state, federal and local taxes, with local money making up the lion’s share of spending for students.That can cause some disparities in how much gets spent on each student.National Public Radio and Education Week are conducting a series of stories on school spending and the difference it makes in how well students do.


They have put together a U.S., map that shows spending, district by district that you can see here. Spending in Georgia school districts range from a little over $7,000 per student per year to more than $15,000.Eric Stirgus from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is taking a look at this issue in Georgia and will be reporting soon in a Sunday story on some of the differences he found in comparing school spending in one of Georgia’s richest counties with one of it’s poorer ones.




class80olddog
class80olddog

@Quandary  So "if we spend more we get better schools", then research should show that the school systems that spend the most (e.g. APS) should have the best educational outcomes.  I am saying that is just not true.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Quandary You  may be seeing an old promo as Eric's story ran a year ago: Here is an excerpt:



Jefferson County High School senior Summerlyn Tripp rushed to share a hug and good news with her principal recently. She received a $1,000 opera music scholarship to attend Augusta University in the fall.

Tripp sings in school chorus class but doesn't get additional music lessons.

Educators in this rural county, with its own Peachtree Street lined with small shops and tall pine trees, try to make up for what students don't have with heavy doses of encouragement and by looking for ways outside of school budgets to get students what they need.

"What we do have, we make the absolute very best of it, " Tripp, 17, said.

An hour north of Atlanta, some students at Forsyth County's Chestatee Elementary School proudly carry laptop computers they took home over the summer to keep up with their studies. Local philanthropists and community leaders paid for the devices.

"Wow!" Natasha Parker, the instructional coach at Jefferson's Carver Elementary School, said when told of the Forsyth program. "That's something we don't have."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently visited the districts to get a glimpse of differences between the perks low-income students in a poorer school system and a richer one can expect, and what difference that can make in their educations and outcomes. In Forsyth, 40 miles north of Atlanta, one in eight children under 18 lived below the federal poverty line in 2014, U.S. Census Bureau numbers say. In Jefferson, about 40 miles southwest of Augusta, every other child under 18 lived below the poverty line.

We found that students in wealthier districts can receive help and assets kids in poor districts don't, such as greater financial support from local businesses, churches and community organizations, which can better help secure their futures. Wealthy districts can offer higher teacher salaries, many of them also received a slightly higher percentage of state money per student in recent years, and districts with larger student populations can get state money for buildings that districts like Jefferson cannot.

Inequality in student education is an issue Georgia tried to solve in 1985 with the Quality Basic Education Act. The legislation created a complex formula to divvy up state money, in part, to help poorer counties offer a similar quality of education as wealthy ones. But the laws are out of date, and the state has failed to fund its own recommendations fully, leading to complaints from both rich and poor counties. And the equity formula does not always work out fairly.

State funding to Forsyth, metro Atlanta's fastest-growing school district, has increased by 23 percent over the last decade, two percentage points higher than Jefferson, the AJC found. Jefferson made up ground last year and received about $5,500 per pupil from the state, about $1,500 more per student than Forsyth.

Jefferson school leaders note their state funding took a $15 million hit via austerity cuts since 2003 as a result of underfunding. That is a lot for a district whose budget this year is $24 million.

All school districts were hit by the cuts, but the AJC found the cuts last school year to Georgia's 10 lowest-income school districts were greater than cuts to the state's 10 highest-income school districts by about $27 per student.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@class80olddog @gapeach101 @Quandary Does Ms. Downey's explanation  below help? 

There are also  studies done that show kids learn about the same amount of information during the school year ( of course they don't start at the same point, so they don't end at the same point).   Unfortunately, some learning is lost over the summer months.  Poor kids lose a lot more than other children.  So, each year in school they fall further and further behind.

Educating a population is a lot easier (and cheaper) when your population starts the game on second base.

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

Liberals always say it's about the money. Yet the "poor" schools with the free school lunch scam get tens of thousands of Federal dollars that the "affluent" schools do not. This is is addition to the same district student spending that every school gets.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@irishmafia1457  What the current schools administrations seem to be doing is worrying about things that are not under their control (e.g. poverty, parental involvement, etc.).  What they should worry about and address are things that ARE under their control and for which they have possible controls for: discipline (you have more options than just ISS and OSS and expulsion - use them!), attendance (yes, you CAN use Georgia truancy laws!), and social promotion (if a students FAILS, do the right thing and RETAIN him/her). 

Quandary
Quandary

@irishmafia1457  Do you know the main source of public school funding comes from?  Property taxes - so many schools in "affluent" areas will always have more funds available to them then the ones in "poor" areas.  That's why there's so much politics behind school redistricting.  Many folks that live in "affluent" areas don't want their tax dollars paying for schools that's not in their area - and I don't blame them. 

Quandary
Quandary

@class80olddog @irishmafia1457  Asian countries have some of the best public schools in the world.  Many of their kids go to school year round  - there is a heavy emphasis on math and science - we need to use their model to improve our schools - at least give it a try "pilot" program.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Quandary @irishmafia1457  Actually, only 41% of school funding in Georgia is from local taxes - the remainder is from State and Federal funding.  And of the local funding, some is through ESPLOST money - all but one county has ESPLOST (in 2014).  But the majority of local funding is from property taxes.

Quandary
Quandary

@class80olddog @Quandary @irishmafia1457  So what your saying is all of the public schools in the state of GA get the exact $ amounts correct?  - Please google this one and let us know - all school systems don't get the same amount of funding from property taxes.

Quandary
Quandary

@class80olddog @Quandary @irishmafia1457 

In Georgia, schools are paid for by a combination of state, federal and local taxes, with local money making up the lion’s share of spending for students.That can cause some disparities in how much gets spent on each student.National Public Radio and Education Week are conducting a series of stories on school spending and the difference it makes in how well students do.

They have put together a U.S., map that shows spending, district by district that you can see here. Spending in Georgia school districts range from a little over $7,000 per student per year to more than $15,000.Eric Stirgus from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is taking a look at this issue in Georgia and will be reporting soon in a Sunday story on some of the differences he found in comparing school spending in one of Georgia’s richest counties with one of it’s poorer ones.

Carole Veschi
Carole Veschi

Yes, I did an open record request on how much Fulton County paid Nelson Mullins Legal team in two years. There were checks written adding up to $7,051,126.36. That does not cover any settlement fees. They might use other legal services too. It is crazy how the money gets spent. I do not think anyone is checking on certain expenses.

class80olddog
class80olddog

If you REALLY want to improve educational outcomes, you should get off this fixation about money and concentrate on three things: discipline in the classroom and school, attendance issues, and social promotion.  These things do not require large sums of money to address - they only require some intestinal fortitude - which seems to be the one thing that is in acute supply in schools these days.  We have instead made a god of the Almighty PC.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The top three spenders per student are : Vermont, New York and District of Columbia - they spend an average of $22,000 per student.  The bottom three spenders are: Idaho, Utah, and Indiana and they spend an average of $7000 per student.  NAEP average scores for 8th grade Math and Reading for the top three were 270.  Average scores for the bottom three were 277.  Case closed.  It ain't the money, honey!

Quandary
Quandary


@class80olddog  This is miss leading.  So what you're saying the state Vermont, New York and DC spend $22,000 per student.  That $22K maybe for teacher salaries, transportation, security etc.  All the school systems in these areas are NOT equal.  For example a kid living in a bad side of town will not get the same $ for school education then the one living in an affluent area.  Property tax funds these schools - so yes money does matter.  The affluent areas have more funds to pay for the best teachers, text books, equipment etc. 


class80olddog
class80olddog

@Quandary @class80olddog  I am just using numbers from research - averages.  If the AVERAGE is $22000 per student, then some local areas might spend $10,000 per student and some might spend $30,000 per student. Same with the test scores.  You can look at Georgia and see differences in local expenditures, for example, look at spending at APS versus spending in Cobb County and also differences in educational outcomes.

class80olddog
class80olddog

If more money equaled better educational outcomes, we should be twice as good as we were in the sixties, since we spend more than twice what we did then.  However, the NAEP scores for 17-year olds has barely budged in the last 40 years  (reading went from 285 to 287, math from 304 to 306).

class80olddog
class80olddog

If you look at a graph comparing state average spending per student and NAEP 8th grade scores (I would prefer better statistics, such as 12th grade scores, but cannot get it) - you see a very scattershot pattern.  While there is a very small correlation between increased spending and increased scores, it is weak and there are significant outliers - DC, for example is one of the highest spenders but the lowest scores.  Utah spends the least and has relatively good scores.  To me this is indicative of other factors playing a much greater influence than spending. https://www.winginstitute.org/uploads/images/datamining/NAEP scores vs spending by state whtback.jpg

Kay Draper Hutchinson
Kay Draper Hutchinson

How about an education story on how much school boards spend on legal fees and whether or not they hire in-house counsel? Fulton spends millions in legal fees and some unknown portion goes towards defending inept and corrupt central office figures at the top who do wrong then district gets sued. The legal team has no motivation to move fast as far as I can tell.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to see total transparency on school spending - including spending on legal fees, spending for administration and other "central office", and lastly, a breakdown of spending on ELL and on SPED students. 

Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

The phrase "throwing money" implies that the schools already get plenty and that nothing else will be done to improve education. If that was true, I would agree that money alone would not fix it. But GA schools have been underfunded, according to the QBE, since 2002. They simply aren't getting enough. And what they are getting is being misspent in the form of excessive testing, over reliance on technology, compliance on stupid initiatives, and consultants. Fix that stuff and they will be able to afford what truly matters for better education - quality teachers, smaller class sizes, actual physical textbooks, etc.

class80olddog
class80olddog

You can raise teachers' salaries all you want (look at APS) and you won't get good teachers in certain schools - where the extra pay is really combat pay.  You don't NEED to pay teachers huge salaries to get good teachers - you need to improve teaching conditions, namely discipline issues, and not having to teach kids who are three grades behind because of social promotion, and not trying to teach kids who are not present in the school (rampant absenteeism).  Yes, teachers deserve a reasonable salary and reasonable raises - but that is not keeping the good teachers away.

Kay Draper Hutchinson
Kay Draper Hutchinson

Reduce class sizes and pay teachers. We are losing the schools known to be “better” because we are not doing these two things. What in the heck are 33 fourth graders or 38 ninth graders doing in one room with one teacher (who hasn’t had a real pay raise that amounted to more money since she can’t remember when)?

class80olddog
class80olddog

You could easily reduce class sizes today with the current money - if so much did not go to the Central Office (and to legislated extra expenses detailed by L_D_ below).