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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Lesson # 1: More Spending Does NOT Make for Better Education

More spending does NOT make for better education. This fact can be proved in hundreds of ways. Here are several.

The Reclaim Idaho initiative promises, at its core, to raise taxes in order to increase education spending throughout the state. Critics worry about how the proposal will raise taxes. It will raise everyone’s taxes. But the tax issue could disappear. And opponents of the measure will face a deeper issue. Whether the scheme to spend more money on education will yield public benefits.

If money brought better education, then spending more money on education might make sense. But if it does not, then spending more money on education is simply throwing good money after bad. Spending public money without obvious public benefits is just wrong.

The very title of Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act initiative contains a promise. Increased spending will lead, Reclaim Idaho supposes, to quality education or better education than we have now.

But more spending does NOT make for better education. We have showed this in many different ways. The best-funded states in the country do not have the highest test scores. The best-funded school districts in the country do not have the highest test scores. The best-funded countries in the world do not have the best test scores. Studies simply do not support the idea that more money leads to better education.

According to one review, the USA “spends something like 8 times what Vietnam spends per student and performs just about exactly as well, while Luxemburg spends more than anyone else in the world and performs worse.” The same conclusion is reached everywhere: More education spending does not lead to better education.

Drill down into the Idaho numbers by school district as provided in Idaho Freedom Foundation’s LEAD map. This handy little tool allows for quick comparison of school district spending and academic performance, along with a nice little catalogue of critical social justice incidents in each district.

High spending districts, on a per student basis, are no better than the low spending districts. More education spending does NOT make for better education.

Consider some examples from bigger school districts. Coeur d’Alene (CDA) School District has just about the same test scores as Boise School District. CDA’s average test scores for IRI, ISAT English, and ISAT Math grade level* is 52.9%, while Boise’s is 53%. Boise spends $9,979 per student, while CDA spends $8,050. Boise spends about 20% more to get the same results. Blaine County spends around twice as much ($16,393) as CDA to score 7% below CDA (46.4%).

Add Salmon River Joint School District into the mix. Though it is a small district, it is a very high spending district. Salmon River spends $20,090 per student, while scoring just below the others at 42.5%. Salmon River and Blaine County spend around or more than twice the state average, but they are not high-achieving districts. It is almost as if more spending does not lead to better education.

Perhaps we can find a relationship between high achievement at the edges. Among the highest performing districts are Genesee (69.2%), Grace (62.8), North Gem (64.3), and Rockland (63.4). These districts spend $13,943, $8,523, $13,052 and $12,845 All are small districts. All perform highly. But not all spend lots per student and all of them spend considerably less than some of the lowest-performing school districts.

Low-performing districts include Lapwai (20.5%), Plummer/Worley (17.8), Wendell (29.8), and Wilder (22.8). These districts spend $16,367, $15,829, $7,843, and $8,689. Lapwai and Plummer/Worley spend more than any of the high-performing districts like Genesee and North Gem but are among the state’s lowest performing districts. In contrast, Grace spends as much as Wilder, but scores twice as high.

Data nerds can click through the IFF tool. There are thousands of ways to prove that more spending does not lead to better education outputs.

If money does not bring success, what does? Answer: culture and family. It is impossible to buy a good culture: it has to be home-grown over the course of generations, starting with like-minded families growing schools. The very notion that money buys student success is corrupt and corrupting. Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act deserves to be defeated.

*The Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) measures the percentage of K-3 students who tested at grade level. The Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) represents the percentage of students in grades 3-11 who tested at or above proficient in English language arts and math. Together the these numbers represent what percentage of students who proceed through schools proficient in math, reading and language arts. The Combined Test Scores column represents the average of these three tests for each school district. No measure is perfect, but this measure is consistent across districts and that makes for good comparisons. If it is imperfect, it is imperfect equally for all measures.

See also

Can Idaho Spend its Way to Better Education? (May 12)