Scott Mooneyham piqued a few Republicans in yesterday’s Insider by implying North Carolina’s low ranking on per pupil funding (44th) undercut Republican arguments that government is just throwing money at schools. The Insider article reports on legislative Republican school reform proposals, based in part, on a education report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The ALEC report ranked North Carolina’s public schools 30th in the nation. Mooneyham noted Republicans failed to mention during the news conference North Carolina’s rank in per pupil funding: 44th.
Scott should know the list of studies and researchers (Hanushek, Matthews) that debunk the perceived strong link between spending and educational performance is too long to mention here. Many studies have come to the same conclusion: while spending is not unimportant, spendng is only one of a variety of important factors to be considered. The correlation between spending and outcomes is weak at best. A quick look through the ALEC report helps make the point. For example, the District of Columbia ranked 3rd highest in expenditures per pupil ($13,848) and 1st in average salary of instructional staff. Still, the District of Columbia placed 51th in the overall ALEC ranking — an ignominious distiction it has held since 2002. Likewise, New York State ranked second in expenditures per pupil ($14,747); seventh in average salary of instructional staff, but placed 32nd in overall ranking. On the other side, South Dakota ranked 39th in expenditures per pupil ($7,790) and 51st in average salary of instructional staff ($34,709) and yet ranked 5th in overall ranking.
Fact is, national comparisons of educational spending are fraught with difficulties (differences in cost of living, tax structure economic climate etc. etc.). A more valid assessment is to compare investment overtime with actual results. On that score, many believe results for the public schools in North Carolina have fallen short. State funding for investment has increased $3.5 billion since 1998 and 32 percent over the last six years. Since 1988,$2 billion alone has been set aside exclusively aimed at making schools better. Yet results are disappointing: state scores on ABC exams and NAEP tests are far from satisfactory. Progress on AYP lags. The achievement gap worsens and the dropout problem seems intractable. Many Republicans believe reforming the current system by expanding the number of charter schools, developing merit pay plans for teachers and providing rigorous and relevant “vocational education” in all high schools is the best way to improve student results. Where tried these proposals have worked and spurred student performance. They are a far better option than continually feeding system that has failed students and the public.