State Data Shows More Spending Doesn’t Improve Education

Published May 29, 2012

Union bosses and other liberals have long argued Nevada and the nation must spend more on K-12 education to increase student achievement.

In one sense, at least, their arguments have been incredibly successful: Nevada has mirrored the nation by nearly tripling inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending in the last 50 years.

Student achievement, however, has stagnated, and Nevada’s graduation rate—according to Education Week—has plummeted to 44.3 percent. Spending more, even a lot more, has not produced the student learning gains liberals have promised.

Parroting a Disproven Refrain
Although disproven, union bosses continue to parrot this refrain. On its website, the Clark County Education Association writes, “Funding for education has been shortchanged by Nevada’s legislators for too long. Their lack of leadership and courage to adequately fund public education has resulted in our state ranking dead-last in the nation in investment in education, resulting in the hampering of innovation and excellence.”

The CCEA’s state-level affiliate, the Nevada State Education Association, is taking direct action to force additional spending hikes. The Las Vegas Sun reports  the NSEA is preparing to file a business-tax initiative to increase education funding by $1 billion.

This union-boss effort would only further entrench the failing status quo. The reality is that little to no correlation exists between spending and student achievement.

Nationwide Pattern
Nevada isn’t the only state to have dramatically increased education spending in previous decades with little to no increase in student achievement to show for it. Nationwide, inflation-adjusted per-pupil education spending has increased by about 140 percent in the last 40 years, and the number of teachers per pupil has increased by more than 70 percent.

Student achievement, however, has been hovering near the same level—or even decreasing—for decades.

My state-by-state analysis with colleague Geoffrey Lawrence shows that there is no statistically significant correlation between spending and student achievement. This is seen when Fiscal Year 2009 spending on current expenditures is compared with reading and math scores on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

A simple regression analysis reports the correlation of state education spending with student performance on the NAEP fourth-grade reading and math tests. In these cases, the correlation between spending and student achievement in reading and math is, at best, only 3.18 percent and 1.82 percent, respectively. This is an extremely weak to nonexistent relationship.

Fostering Public Ignorance
Some liberal commentators have claimed that because some top-spending states, such as Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont, boast high test scores, there is a correlation between spending and student achievement. These liberals, however, ignore the top-spending locales that have low test scores, such as Washington, DC, Alaska, and New York.

When little to no correlation exists between spending and student achievement, such scores are exactly what you’d expect. Some top-spending states score well; others score poorly. The converse is also true: Some low-spending states score well, while others score poorly.

This analysis and others indicate there is virtually no relationship between spending and student achievement—much less a causal relationship. Nonetheless, union bosses and liberals, relying on the public ignorance they have helped foster, have falsely claimed for decades there is a causal relationship between these variables.

Tragedy of Falsehood
The real tragedy of these falsehoods is not found in numbers or statistics. It is found in the face of a schoolchild who is stuck in a failing school, year after year. It is found in the brokenhearted parents who cannot afford to send their children to effective schools. It pervades dispirited American communities that, after 50 years of trying to increase student achievement by spending more, are still berated by union bosses for not spending enough.

The real tragedy is that union bosses are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the real education reforms that would help your child go to an effective and motivating school.

Fifty years of evidence in 50 states have demonstrated emphatically that spending more is not the path to increased student achievement.

The future of these states’ students—America’s children—requires legislators and voters to reject the lies of union bosses and institute proven school-choice reforms.


Image by Judy Baxter.