How not to define an adequate education
The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies recently released a study about the impact of increased state spending on public education since the Claremont decisions. The study indicates that school districts continue to spend widely varying amounts on a per student basis. In 2004, the difference between higher-spending districts and lower-spending districts was $5,158 per student.
Liberal newspapers such as the Concord Monitor and The Keene Sentinel have seized on the study as proof that the state has failed to provide every student an adequate education. The Monitor went so far as to call for the state to set a minimum per student spending requirement. When the study is viewed in conjunction with other data regarding New Hampshire schools, however, what it shows is that there is no correlation between increased education spending and better results.
A recent analysis by Standard & Poor’s, which can be found at schoolmatters.com, found that four school districts in New Hampshire were “outperformers.” An outperformer is a school district that meets the following three criteria:
• The district must report higher percentages of students scoring at or above state standards on reading and math than districts with similar proportions of economically disadvantaged students.
• The district must perform at a level that significantly exceeds statistical expectation.
• The district must repeat this performance for at least two consecutive years.
The outperformers were Bow, Gorham, Littleton and Moultonborough. For the 2002-2003 school year, the state average of students performing at or above proficiency in math and reading was 72 percent. Bow scored 88.6 percent, Gorham 79.6 percent, Littleton 76.3 percent and Moultonborough 82.7 percent.
While three of these four school districts spent more than the state average of $7,809 per student, only Moultonborough, at $11,223 per student, spent significantly more. Bow and Gorham, at $7,473 and $8,289 per student, were right around the state average, while Littleton spent $9,119 per student.
On average, the outperformers spent $9,026 per student and scored 81.8 percent. In contrast, Claremont spent $9,350 per student, but scored only 59 percent. And while Franklin spent only $5,665 per student, it achieved the same 59 percent as Claremont. All of which shows that there is no correlation between spending disparities among school districts and whether they provide an adequate education.
The study also reports that “the state’s school districts continued to increase their aggregate spending at rates more than double the rate of inflation” since 1999.
The Standard & Poor’s analysis indicates that the additional spending resulting from the Claremont decisions has not improved public education. Its “return on spending index,” which measures the average number of reading and math proficiency points achieved per $1,000 spent per student, fell for New Hampshire from 14.6 for the 2001-2002 school year to 13.4 for 2002-2003. SAT scores, which were flat from 2000 through 2003, also indicate that the state isn’t getting any bang for the bucks it has spent in response to the Claremont case.
These results should not be the least bit surprising. In 2001, the Heritage Foundation reported that, despite an inflation-adjusted nationwide increase of 72 percent in education spending over the prior 20 years, achievement scores had remained flat.
The Claremont case ignores the disconnect between spending and results. In Claremont II, the Supreme Court said it is “basic, however, that in order to deliver a constitutionally adequate public education to all children, comparable funding must be assured” to every school district. This is completely at odds with the empirical evidence showing that spending does not correlate with results. And it shows that the Claremont case is every bit as incoherent as a matter of educational policy as it is incoherent as a matter of constitutional law.
The education funding plan passed by the House earlier this month ignores the Claremont II ruling, which says the local property tax cannot be used to pay for the cost of an adequate education. But it does share the mistaken belief that comparable spending among school districts will lead to comparable educational quality. And it incorrectly assumes that bad schools can be improved by more spending.
The Senate, which now gets its turn at education funding, should completely scrap this approach. The focus should be shifted from equalizing spending and subsidizing below-average performance to raising achievement. The best way to do this is to increase competition among schools.
Ed Mosca is a Manchester attorney and former chairman of that city’s Republican Party.