Does more school spending help students?


Of course, it’s not that simple.  But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is definitely wrong when she claims that spending more money will not help public schools.  NPR’s Kayla Lattimore uses this as a nice starting point to examine the research on the issue.  Of course money is no magic bullet, but spent in the right ways in the right places, it can sure help:

To be sure, spending more in troubled schools won’t automatically lead to better student outcomes. But, when the dollars are spent wisely and consistently, research suggests, they can have a profound effect in the classroom…

This idea, that sprinkling more dollars over troubled schools won’t magically improve test scores or graduation rates, is a common refrain among many politicians, activists and experts. And they have research to back it up…

In short, these critics say, it’s How You Spend School Money, not How Much You Spend.

This debate has raged for at least half a century, and today we’re going to put both sides under a microscope…

In places like Revere, north of Boston, where nearly 80 percent of students come from low-income families, many of those dollars were spent on people: to hire and keep good teachers and give them better training.

This is key, says Bruce Baker, who studies school funding at Rutgers. “If you have enough money to hire enough people to have reasonable class sizes and to be able to pay them sufficient wages so that you’re getting good people coming into the profession, that’s most of the battle of providing quality schooling.” …

So, quick recap: While the money in Camden, N.J., has led to relatively little academic progress, our stories from North Carolina, Indiana and Massachusetts offer a compelling counterpoint to the idea that money doesn’t really matter.

So, too, do a pair of recent studies that look not at one state but at many where parents, activists and school leaders from low-income districts sued and won increases in school funding…

The Takeaways

So, is money pixie dust?

No. If it were, there would be no debate. Or, at least, the debate wouldn’t be nearly as loud.

But, does money matter — especially for low-income students? Even Stanford’s Eric Hanushek agrees that it does.

“Money matters, of course,” he bristles. “And I think that’s a straw-man way to phrase the question.”

Make no mistake, money can make a difference in the classroom. If:

Takeaway #1: The money reaches students who need it most…

Takeaway #2: The increases come steadily, year after year…

Takeaway #3: The money stays in the classroom: paying, training and supporting strong teachers, improving curriculum and keeping class sizes manageable. [emphasis mine]

So, yes, absolutely, we should spend our money wisely and simply spending money in anyway is not enough.  But if we spend more money in smart, already-identified ways, we can absolutely improve education.  Let’s do it.  I’m all for starting by paying teachers more, especially where we need them the most.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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