Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goldwater Institute: 49th or 149th, it's not about spending, it's about results

MattBy Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Over the past couple weeks I have been debating progressive blogger David Safier and his readers about per pupil spending in Arizona public schools. It's been a good exchange, and I have learned things in the process.

girl at chalkboardAs I've discussed before, the Superintendent of Public Instruction's financial report revealed that in 2007-08 Arizona schools received $9,707 in revenue per pupil. There are some small sources of revenue included in those figures, like students buying lunches with their own money and a small allocation for adult education, which ought not to be counted. The JLBC recently produced an expenditure total of $9,399 per pupil. Both of these are well above the $6,500 per pupil myth, often reported in the news media.

For those who wish to obsess about where Arizona ranks compared to other states, I have conceded that I don't know how many other states may be low-balling their numbers in ways similar to Arizona. In the absence of reliable national numbers, I have pledged not to make claims about where Arizona ranks, even if the usual suspects continue to claim Arizona is ranked 49th (along with several other states).

Personally, I don't think it matters much where Arizona ranks as a state. Arizona charter schools receive $7,800 per pupil and the average private school tuition is $5,500, and they often out-perform traditional public schools. It isn't about spending, it's about results.

Where does $9,000 per pupil rank Arizona compared to other nations? President Obama suggested an answer in a speech last week:

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. The relative decline of American education is untenable in our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream."
When we have a huge budget deficit and school choice programs get better results for less money, it seems obvious which direction we should go.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Learn more:

No comments: