Policy Documents

Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer

Benjamin Clark & Alexandria Gilbert –
August 13, 2013

In this Policy Report, the authors contend that one of the most frequent critiques of public education is that more money needs to be spent in order to achieve better results. Some facts uncovered in this document:

  1. First, the amount that taxpayers already spend on public education is significantly underreported. While the average stated amount spent per pupil is $9,123, the true figure is about 11 percent more than reported, or $10,088 per student, per year.
  2. What is more interesting is where the money is spent. Less than 54 percent of total spending is directed at classroom instruction, such as teacher salaries, textbooks, supplies, and other instructional spending. And that figure is in constant decline, whereas administrative spending is on the upswing. Since 2000, the number of administrators in Tennessee’s education system has grown by 34.5 percent, while the number of teachers has increased by less than 17 percent, and the number of students has grown by just seven percent. Salary increases for administrative leaders have also climbed at a faster pace than salaries for teachers.
  3. Finally, after comparing similarly situated school districts within the state, while also comparing Tennessee to other states, this report can find no measureable correlation between spending and student performance. Ultimately, more spending does not equal better results. Rather than spend more money, especially on administrative personnel, school districts should focus on spending education funds more wisely. Only then can Tennessee expect to provide its students with the quality education they deserve.