NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EDUCATING FROM THE BENCH

April 28, 2006

Arkansas's elected leaders have ceded control over the size of public education budgets to unaccountable courts, says Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas.

In 2001, Arkansas Supreme Court justices declared that public school funding, which was $7,000 per pupil, was not enough to provide a "general, suitable and efficient" system of public education. Therefore, they paid outside consultants $350,000 to determine how much extra funding would be required for an adequate education.

The consultants recommended increasing per pupil spending by four billion dollars, or $9,000 per pupil. However:

  • While legislators can be held responsible for wasting taxpayer dollars, courts and consultants generally cannot -- which gives them license to drive education spending higher.
  • Their self-proclaimed "evidence-based" report is not evidence-based at all, because the vast majority of researchers find no relationship between increased spending and higher student achievement.
  • Arkansas schools with more money perform no better than schools with less money, once student and community background characteristics are controlled.

The fact that nationwide per pupil spending has doubled over the past three decades while student achievement has remained stagnant ought to give policy makers a clue that simply spending more won't fix schools, says Greene. In fact, the shortcomings of schools are not generally attributable to the lack of resources, but to a lack of incentives to use resources effectively.

Additionally, consultants' recommended spending increases resulted in $1.1 billion of unspent reserves as of 2005. That is, schools can't even spend the additional money fast enough as the court orders more, says Greene.

Source: Jay P. Greene, "Educating From the Bench," Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2006.

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