New Mexico Schools Have Little to Show for Increased Spending

Published March 1, 2008

The academic performance of students in New Mexico has remained stagnant despite the state’s rapidly increasing investment in K-12 education, according to a study by the Rio Grande Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Albuquerque.

The study, “The Way to Education Success in New Mexico: Breaking Free from Failed ‘Reforms’,” notes reading and science scores “have for the most part declined,” while there has been a slight improvement in students’ math scores.

Other subjects didn’t undergo enough testing to discern a trend, notes author Harry Messenheimer, a senior fellow with the institute. He used testing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and budget data from the state and federal governments.

“In a state that is consistently ranked among the nation’s worst in terms of student achievement, this report’s findings and conclusions are refreshing,” said Kara Hornung, director of communications at the Washington, DC-based Center for Education Reform. “More money does not automatically mean students will perform better. It’s how those resources are used that makes all the difference.”

Throwing Money Away

The study notes 42 percent of New Mexico’s fourth-grade students in 2005 failed to achieve even a basic level of proficiency in reading. That year, more than half of the state’s eighth-grade students, 54 percent, could not reach basic proficiency in science.

“We are falling further behind the nation as a whole in all three subjects [math, reading, and science],” Messenheimer writes.

Over the past two decades, New Mexico has dramatically increased resources devoted to education.

“When adjusted for inflation and population growth, general fund spending has increased by 34 percent over the past 19 years,” the study notes. “The average New Mexican is now paying an extra $319 each year for no improvement in the education of our children.

“Moreover, state spending is supplemented by federal and local dollars,” the study continues. “All told, per-pupil spending from all sources has increased by nearly $2,700 (in FY 2006 dollars) over the 18 years ending in FY 2005.”

Calling for School Choice

“Once again we see that there is little or no connection between money spent on government school bureaucracies and improving results among those students,” observed Paul J. Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation. “Putting more resources into a broken system has been tried repeatedly in the past, with little in the way of positive results.”

The study suggests New Mexico could substantially improve its students’ performance by encouraging–and allowing–more parents to choose their children’s schools.

“[M]aking education more market-like would work,” Messenheimer writes. “The author of this study believes that a system of tax credits for needy children is the best immediately available and politically feasible means of improving New Mexico’s education system.”

Considering Tax Credits

During the current legislative session, Gessing said, New Mexico lawmakers will discuss implementing a tax credit program similar to Arizona’s. (See stories on pages 1, 10, and 11.)

“This is the most viable choice option available in New Mexico at this time, but all forms of school choice and parental empowerment must be ‘on the table’ if education is to improve,” Gessing said.

David V. Anderson, an education fellow at the Ocean State Policy Research Institute in Providence, Rhode Island, says it’s too early to say what will happen.

“Sometimes a research report like the one cited will suggest a particular state or region has bad education policies that might lead one to infer that other states have good policies,” Anderson said. “[But] my impression is that all states suffer from similar problems in their public and private schools.

“Social promotion is a problem in every state and in nearly every school,” Anderson said. “Some states are far worse than others, but even the best public education system in the United States, Massachusetts, has large numbers of children performing below proficient levels–about 55 percent, by my reading of the NAEP scores.”

Dr Sanjit Bagchi ([email protected]) writes from India.

For more information …

“The Way to Education Success in New Mexico: Breaking Free from Failed ‘Reforms’,” by Harry Messenheimer, Rio Grande Foundation, November 2007: