More Spending Does not Make for Better Education

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty looks at the data.

The Report:Truth in Spending: An Analysis of K-12 Spending in Wisconsin, by Research Director Will Flanders, PhD lays out the facts about K-12 spending in Wisconsin, where Wisconsin ranks nationally, and which school districts are getting the most bang for the buck. Most notably, using the most recent year of data available from DPI, Dr. Flanders examined the relationship of K-12 spending on public schools and student outcomes. The findings include:

  • K-12 education spending in Wisconsin is in-line with the rest of the country. Wisconsin spends more money, on average, than the majority of states; $600 per pupil more than the median state.
  • Wisconsin, like the United States, spends far more on education – and gets less for it – than economically developed countries in Europe and Asia. Of 41 OECD countries with data, spending in Wisconsin would rank 4th. The United States as a whole would rank 6th. Yet performance on the PISA science and reading ranks 30th. We can do better.
  • An econometric analysis finds no relationship between higher spending and outcomes in Wisconsin. On average, high-spending districts perform the same or worse on state mandated exams and the ACT relative to low-spending districts.
    • For instance, Slinger and Hartford are examples of districts that spend significantly less than the state average while achieving Forward Exam performance that is significantly higher. In contrast, White Lake and Bayfield have woeful proficiency rates despite spending far more than the average district.
    • The only exception is graduation rates, where higher spending does have some relationship to higher rates of graduation.
  • Private choice schools and charter schools in Wisconsin do more with less.These schools achieve better academic outcomes despite spending thousands less per student than traditional public schools.

It shows what it always shows… more money does not produce better educational outcomes UNLESS that money is spent differently. If you are paying the same teachers to do the same thing, but just paying them more, then you are just going to get the same results. If you take the same money and use it to incent excellence, then you’ll get better results.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin has had static performance for decades while we continue to pour more and more money into the same system to do the same thing. In other words, we are simply rewarding the existing performance with more money instead of doing anything to actually improve education. If we want better performance, we will actually have to do something differently – not just spend more money.