Ohio Graduation Rates Tumble as School Spending Grows

Published January 1, 1998

Although the Ohio Supreme Court argued in DeRolph v. State that school funding determined educational opportunity, the court’s conclusion is at odds with data on school spending and educational achievement in Ohio and the nation, according to a new analysis by the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions. While per-pupil spending in Ohio public schools rose by 19.2 percent in real terms during the 1986-96 decade, graduation rates fell by 7.5 percent during the same period.

According to data from the state’s Department of Education, Ohio public school spending of $3,249 per student in 1986 climbed to $5,545 per student by 1996, an inflation-adjusted increase of 19.2 percent. During that period, graduation rates fell from 80.4 percent in 1986 to 74.3 percent in 1996, a decline of 7.5 percent, or 6.1 percentage points.

“Graduation rate is the only reliable outcome measure over that period of time,” commented Sam Staley, vice president for research at the Buckeye Institute. “It was also the cleanest outcome measure in terms of interpretation,” he added.

Although these findings are at odds with the views of the Ohio Supreme Court, they are consistent with other research on the relationship between spending and student outcomes in Ohio. In 1996, a Buckeye Institute analysis concluded that higher school spending in the state is associated with lower graduation rates and higher dropout rates. In 1994, researchers at Ohio University found that student achievement in Ohio is inversely related to spending. And in 1991, the Urban Policy Institute concluded that there is a significant negative relationship between Ohio school district spending and student achievement.

Those studies, all of which were corrected for the effects of poverty, family income, teacher salaries, and class size, are consistent with national studies on the relationship between school spending and student achievement.

“The research is clear: Across-the board increases in spending are not related to increases in student achievement,” declared Staley, adding “This study shows that dramatically.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].