More Money =/= Better Education

Maybe I’m beating a dead horse, but I feel like I need to keep whacking people over the head with this concept until they get it.

Like today, there was an article in one of my local online papers. The story was that Arizona apparently is the 2nd to last state on the list when it comes to education funding. 

We only spend $7,666 per student, as opposed to Washington D.C. (the 2nd highest in per education spending) which spends $18,475 per student.

The article wasn’t intended to be negative, in fact I think that the Arizona Capitol Times is one of the few truly fair and non-biased papers we have in Arizona, so I don’t take offense at the coverage. I do however take offense at the lack of depth to the reporting, which was likely in deference to appearing non-biased.

In the report they offered a list of the states which spend the least per student and the states which spend the most and that was that. They did no extra delving into those numbers.

Screenshot 2013-06-04 at 4.08.47 PM

Thanks to AZ Capitol Times for the data list

So I crunched the numbers for them.

No need to thank me.

So you are looking at these numbers and thinking “Well, maybe the idea that higher education spending is better is right? I mean, Idaho? Oklahoma? Mississippi? Nothing there but rednecks and hillbillies right?”

Thanks to being what the “elite” like to call “flyover country” these states have gotten a generally bad rap. People from the south and mid-south are just dirty hicks who run around barefoot and say things like “y’all” and “fixin’to” instead of speaking like an “educated” person.

While I will admit to saying y’all on occasion, I deny the barefoot part. There are some nasty, stickery plants that grow in the grass in the mid-south (plus fire ants and scorpions) so bare feet are generally discouraged.

Anyway, back to the main point.

These states get a bad rap, but when you look at their SAT scores and graduation rates, they are on par (or doing significantly better than) the top 5 spending states.

Let’s look at graduation rates first. I average the rates for each set of states. The top 5 states had a combined average graduation rate of 74%.

The bottom 5 states had a combined average of 76.8% graduation.

Wait a minute, their average is 2.8% higher than the big spenders. That’s weird.

Of course you could blame that on Alaska and the District of Columbia ruining it for everyone else, their graduation rates are absolutely abysmal. 68% in Alaska and 59% in DC. New York (77%), New Jersey(83%) and Vermont(87%) have rates that are not far from the other 5 states rates. Utah (76%), Idaho (84%), Oklahoma (70.7%), Arizona (78%) and Mississippi (75%).

Funny, you would think that with more than twice the spending per student those top tier states would have a better graduation rate.

Oh well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink right? Surely the students who graduate and go on to college are doing better  than the students who are college bound in the low tier states.

Let’s look at their SAT scores.

Here’s where things get really interesting.

Because the low tier states have a combined average SAT score of 1633.8

The high tier states only have a combined average SAT score of 1481.4

A 152.4 difference in favor of states which spend significantly less money.

In fact, not a single state in the high tier scored a better average than the low tier states.

SAT scores

Utah – 1674                                                               New York – 1461

Idaho – 1601                                                             District of Columbia – 1382

Oklahoma – 1684                                                     Alaska – 1524

Arizona – 1544                                                          New Jersey – 1506

Mississippi – 1666                                                    Vermont – 1537

In fact, the two lowest scores, New York and DC, are the two biggest education spenders per student.

Between the lowest and highest spenders there is almost no difference in graduation rate (76% and 77%) and the lowest spender has an average SAT score that is 213 points higher (which is not an insignificant difference).

So keep telling me how I “hate education” and “want students to suffer” because I don’t want, yet another, spending increase for education.

The numbers don’t back you up. Money is not the answer.



  1. One caveat that should be considered, even though it doesn’t invalidate your point. SAT scores are hard to compare because each state also has a different portion of the state take the test. Utah with some of the highest scores also has one of the lowest percentages of students taking the test, and when you only have your top 2% taking the test it looks a little better than when you have your top 40% take the test (kind of how Europe and Asia beat the US on most education tests because they usually only test their college bound track where we test everyone from the college bound to those with thick IEP’s, amazing we come out lower). I’d wager if we could correct for the percentage of students taking the test we would find the gap in SAT scores to be more negligible, but then again that still proves that more money does not equal better results.

  2. The statistics are jaw dropping. As a person who was raised and still lives in the local DC area, it is astonishing to know that we are spending nearly $18.5k on each child. The statistics are very clear: higher spending on education does not equate to better or more improved quality of education. Great article! Very informative with powerful statistics.

  3. I would expect most of that money being spent on each child is going to administrators in the school district. Usually, that’s where the funding needs to be cut, so the money can actually go to the kids.

    That said, I don’t think you need a huge budget to teach a child. I plan to homeschool, and I’m not going to spend that much money on each of my two children. Heck no! Homeschooling parents all over the country can teach their children and turn out much better educated young adults than any private school, and they do it for a fraction of the cost of a single student in public school (if they’re careful — sometimes you can spend a lot of money on a curriculum that doesn’t end up working, but it’s rarely THAT much).

      • Oh man, I just realized I totally made a typo when I wrote “private school”. I MEANT public school. I’m in agreement with you about private schools. Sorry for the confusion. 🙂

        I have a very low opinion of public school anymore (and I went to public school all my life). If my kids have to go to school, I’d rather send them to a private school, IF I could afford it. And, hopefully, they won’t have the ridiculous zero-tolerance laws some of these public schools are displaying, because my oldest child would get kicked out faster than you can say “Pop Tart”.

  4. Do you believe in compulsory education (students must attend school until they are 15-18, depending on the state)?

    Compulsory or not, do you believe government should give its citizens access to free (tax covered) education up to a certain level (currently 12th grade in the US)?

    • I think we need to look at systems of education that are tailored for students. At the high school level some schools should be more geared toward college pursuits, some to more practical veins of study. I knew people in high school who had no intention of going to college and actively wanted to be a mechanic or plumber, that was their career choice. Giving students like that an option for more vocational training at the high school level would be ideal.

      As for education, I believe that it’s more ideal for states to deal with it. It’s certainly not in the description of the enumerated powers. I’d like to disband the entire department of education and the teacher’s unions, but I’m a bit extreme.

      In the end, if they are going to take taxes for public education they need to establish a voucher system for people who don’t want to send their children to the hellhole’s that most public schools are.

      • Not sure I got answers to my questions. Can you please clarify?

        Education *is* controlled, by and large, at the state level (as evidenced by the variation in compulsory education, the variation in state spending that you point out, and the fact that federal money accounts for only ~10% of K-12 spending). So, as a citizen of whatever state you live in, do you believe it’s correct to have any requirement for citizens to go to school? Having different “non-academic” paths is a worthy discussion, but I’m asking, again, if you think it’s correct for the state government to make citizens go to *any* school until they’re 16 y.o. (generally).

        And my second question: should K-12 (or K-?) education be free to the residents of a given state? Whether it’s vouchers or otherwise, should the state gov pay an equal (and essentially full) portion of the schooling costs for all its citizens? Or should it be up to families to finance their children’s elementary and primary education?

        • You want a simple (do you support Y/N?) answer and that’t not possible.

          First of all, I want the Department of Education GONE. That is federal control. Not only that, but the federal government empowers the unions and makes a lot of policy through the DoE. That needs to stop. The fact that state finances are the majority of funding does not mean that states control their education.

          The second is more difficult and is 100% tied to the need for different types of schools. While I don’t support the government enforcing who goes to school and where and for how long, I also want their to be choices for students and parents. This is why we need more than just Option A: Go to school or Option B: Drop out.

          Many of the students who drop out would not have, except that they had no intention of going on to school and they didn’t see that their school was giving them any skills for the real world. So there needs to be school choice and trade schools.

          As long as the government is taking money for education, they have the responsibility to provide it. I don’t believe that should be the case necessarily though. A reduction in taxes would be needed if schools were to be more privately funded. A necessary step to that are voucher programs.

  5. Wow, this is a great discussion. I have been an adult vocational education teacher at a for-profit school for almost twenty years. Let me lay it on the line: our public schools should have an unrelenting and strict K-9 curricula of nothing but the rigid basics and then let the students out to either go to work, remain in 10th grade for expert vocational training, or continue to 12th for college prep. Our public schools are detention centers for adolescents craving action. Let’s give it to them. They can handle it.

    This is the way it was until the 1930s, when liberals began demanding a high school education for everyone as a way to prevent teenagers from competing with adults for scarce jobs, and helping unions in the process. There were no “drop-outs” until this period in our history, which meant there was no wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about “at-risk” teens.

    • Thanks for the input. I think my posts on education tend to get the most feedback.

      I agree with you in a lot of ways about K-9 and upper level tracks. I know there are a lot of charter schools in my area (Arizona has a crapload of them) that market themselves as “college prep”, but I’m not certain that they really are based on my experience, but it’s a start for that area. I just wish more vocational opportunities were available.

  6. Pingback: Bailing Out Failing Public Schools is NOT Conservative | The Snark Who Hunts Back

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