Washington, D.C. – A new report released today by the Center for American Progress examines the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. The study finds that many school districts could do more to raise student achievement and uncovers hundreds of districts that show significantly less productivity than their peers.
The study by Senior Fellow Ulrich Boser measures the academic achievement that a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such as cost of living and students in poverty. The report follows up on a 2011 CAP study and shows that low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem in our nation, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts.
“Our nation needs to do more to improve both the fairness and the productivity of public school dollars,” said Ulrich Boser author of the report and Senior Fellow at CAP. “We need to make sure that schools and districts not only get enough money to serve their student populations but also that they spend those dollars wisely.”
According to Boser’s analysis, too many states and districts are spending dollars on programs that fail to improve student outcomes. In Texas, for instance, more than 100 districts spend upward of $500 per student on athletics, with several spending more than $1,000 per student annually on athletics. To put these numbers in perspective, the average unadjusted per student operating expenditure in the state in 2013 was around $10,000.
The report also reveals that state budget practices are weak. In Washington state, for instance, school districts are allowed to release two different sets of financial statements. The first set of statements is for the state’s annual financial accounting system. The second set of statements meets a different set of accounting procedures.
Key findings detailed in the report include:
Low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts.
Some of the nation’s most affluent school systems show a worrying lack of productivity.
In some districts, spending priorities are clearly misplaced.
State approaches to improving fiscal effectiveness vary widely.
States have failed to make fiscal equity a priority and large funding gaps exist across school districts.
State budget practices are often inconsistent and opaque.
Based on the analysis, the study includes a detailed list of recommendations, including:
States should build capacity for productivity gains through targeted grants, assistance teams, and performance metrics.
Education leaders should improve accounting procedures and create a multistate initiative that will focus on building more robust education budgets.
Educators should also improve the quality of fiscal data across states, and the Common Core State Standards Initiative provides an example of how states can work together to create a stronger, more innovative education system.
States and districts should encourage smarter, fairer approaches to school funding, such as student-based funding policies.