NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 24, 2009

Many, including the courts, have blindly accepted the assumption that more money will improve student performance at our nation's public schools.  However, almost no one has seriously examined the empirical evidence to determine its validity, say authors Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth.

The authors look at four states -- Wyoming, Kentucky, New Jersey and Massachusetts -- where courts ordered the legislatures to appropriate more money for public schools on the presumption that increased spending would improve performance.  Their conclusion: Court-ordered funding does not necessarily improve test scores, and blacks, despite the increased spending, are even worse off.

In Wyoming:

  • In 1995 the state's Supreme Court ruled the state's education funding system was unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to spend whatever it took to make education in the state the "best."
  • Despite unprecedented increases in school funding, the achievement of Wyoming's students has largely failed to keep up with the nation or even with its much lower-funded, although demographically similar, neighboring states.

In Kentucky:

  • The 1989 Rose decision resulted in a court order for certain structural changes and increased funding; the structural changes were implemented, but they produced no improvements in classrooms.
  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, sometimes referred to as the nation's report card, showed little or no progress in Kentucky public schools; of special significance was the impact on black students, who make up 11 percent of the state's public school enrollment; the authors write that black students in Kentucky "have fallen even further behind the nation" during the court-ordered remedy.

In New Jersey:

  • The state has been wrestling with its education system and court orders to fix it since 1970; there are more than 600 school districts in the state with 31 known as Abbott districts, named after the court case that resulted in $1.5 billion in additional education spending (per-pupil spending in New Jersey exceeded $20,000 last year).
  • According to the authors, there is little evidence that the state's black students have progressed much, if at all, relative to black students nationwide; they do note that Hispanic students have made "significant progress," but they don't see a direct connection between spending and achievement.

In Massachusetts:

  • Education spending has increased from $3 billion to $10 billion over the past decade because of a court order.
  • However, it has been accompanied by major structural changes that include "a rigorous regimen of academic standards, graduation exams, and accountability."

Source: Cal Thomas, "Dollars don't always spell learning," Washington Times, June 24, 2009.

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