New Study on Education Spending

Mar 26, 2014

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that promotes free markets, is out with a study suggesting increased spending for education makes no difference in students’ achievement, but critics dismiss that conclusion.

Andrew Coulson is Director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom.  He’s not an economist or an educator, but he decided to compare SAT scores between 1972 and 2012 with state spending on schools.   Here in Virginia, he found the average test score had dropped. “ It’s declined by 3% over this two generation period, but over the same course of time, spending – real, inflation-adjusted per pupil spending – has more than doubled.”

And Virginia’s numbers are very similar to what he saw nationally.  At the University of Virginia, education school Dean Bob Pianta says the SAT does not tell us whether children are learning more in the classroom.
“The SAT itself has changed considerably over the time from 1972 to present, and the scores themselves are produced by norming, so in some sense the absolute level of a score – its meaning relative to the population --  changes .”

It’s wiser, he says, to look at where new dollars were spent and why.  Money devoted to special education, athletic facilities, music programs, new buildings and so on might not boost test scores, but communities may want those things, and the federal government might require them.

Coulson argues the SAT measures reading comprehension and mathematical skills and says he’s already getting calls from policymakers.

“Actually, at least one state legislature has contacted me and asked for not just the raw and adjusted  SAT scores for this period but my spending data as well.”

Here in Virginia, Delegate Steve Landes, who chairs the House Education Committee, says “we will need to look at the study and results very carefully as we reform Virginia’s K-12 system.”