by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
This year, North Carolina got a new means of evaluating K12 schools. Our Dr. Terry Stoops writes:
While comparisons of school performance have been available for years, the ability to evaluate spending by school wasn’t possible until this year. Like most state education agencies, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction published annual per-student expenditures by school district only…
Fortunately, a provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act required state education officials to report per-student spending for all schools in the state.
The ability to compare per-pupil spending by school can be very beneficial. Dr. Stoops writes:
As school finance experts Lucy Hadley, Elizabeth Ross, and Marguerite Roza point out in a recent research brief, “The hope was that the data would be a game changer in that it would prompt districts to re-examine how they spend dollars across schools, with more intention paid toward equity and improving education.” It’s the laudable goal of using transparency to drive accountability and ultimately improvement.
Dr. Stoops uses the data to make a point about school spending:
By all accounts, the now-shuttered Hampton Elementary University Partnership Magnet School in Guilford County had access to tremendous resources. According to state and district sources, the 130-student school employed 31 teachers, maintained a partnership with N.C. A&T State University that provided assistance and technical support…
Yet despite spending nearly $25,000 per student in 2019, only a third of students at Hampton Elementary were proficient in reading, and just less than half were proficient in math…
East Robeson [Primary School] spent a fraction of that amount — a mere $11,728 per student — enrolled a larger share of disadvantaged students, and employed only 39 teachers for its 497 students. Nevertheless, 77% of students were proficient in reading, and 86% were proficient in math.
Simply increasing education spending will not alone improve educational outcomes. Efficiency of dollars spent is a critical factor in allocating funds to education, and, hopefully, this new data will lead to a better understanding of what makes some schools get better bang for their buck.