The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

K-12 Spending: What’s Our ROI?

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Even as K-12 education spending has ballooned nationwide, student achievement has remained flat over the last few decades.  This is especially true in South Carolina where the overall K-12 education budget has increased from $5.751 billion to $7.896 billion in 7 years.  Yet the state’s graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation at 54.9 percent.

South Carolina’s K-8 schools are in even worse shape. South Carolina is last in the nation in terms of combined NCEA 4th and 8th grade overall scores and growth over the last six years.

South Carolina needs some concrete solutions – fast . Right now, the most popular education reform movement in the nation is public charter schools. If you have seen the movie, Waiting for Superman, you will have noticed some parents believe the lottery that determines whether their children are able to enroll in a charter school is their only way out from a low-performing traditional public school.

But be warned, charter schools are not a magic bullet. Not that charter schools are bad.  In fact, any idea that promotes more school choice will drive more competition among schools. More competition among schools = a more results-focused approach = a more student-focused approach.

Other ideas that would promote school choice and increase competition are student-centered funding; reducing administrative costs by eliminating the Education Oversight Committee; and increasing and retaining the pool and quality of teachers by providing more alternative teacher certification routes and properly aligning performance pay incentives. All these ideas have been introduced in the General Assembly, but failed to pass again and again and again.

What is also needed is a shift in the way we think about the K-12 system. A shift in how we define success.

Rick Hess over at AEI has proposed that spending data and student performance data should be tied together so that parents can find out the return on investment (ROI) of the K-12 education dollars spent in their schools.  This is a great idea – and for a glimpse at how it might begin to work, see this study by Dr. Robert Luebke.

In South Carolina, there is a great deal of debate about improving student performance. There are also separate debates on K-12 school financing. Wouldn’t it make sense for the general public and policy makers to think about these two topics, student achievement and spending data, together – in other words, correlating spending with performance?

What is needed is a single document that will automatically measure school academic performance against school spending.

But, as of right now, there is no simple way for parents and the public to find out the return on investment for their schools. That’s not to say it is impossible to find such information. One can find various excel documents regarding spending data and others regarding school performance data on the S.C. Department of Education website. Then one can comb through the data and analyze it to figure out whether a school has a decent ROI or not.

But most people aren’t going to do that and parents shouldn’t be expected to.

It’s time for some real transparency regarding education funding. To begin with, the state should be able to tell parents how much it costs to educate each child and explain how any spending increases will result in higher student achievement. Until they can do this, increasing education spending is throwing good money after bad.


Written by Simon Wong

October 27, 2010 at 9:37 am

Posted in Education

Tagged with ,

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