Sara Okos at the Commonwealth Institute is upset by Virginia’s tight-fisted approach to education spending. Virginia has cut per-pupil “investment” in K-12 schools by more than 11% since 2008. That’s a deeper cut than experienced by all but 10 other states, she blogs, drawing upon a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Writes Okos:
Reducing investment in schools also has long-term economic consequences. A strong education system is essential to creating and maintaining a thriving economy. Businesses need a well-educated workforce, and education cuts undermine the state’s ability to produce workers with the skills needed to get ahead.
At a time when the commonwealth is trying to produce graduates that are “college or career ready,” Virginia should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a “world-class education.”
That’s the conventional wisdom. Cutting spending harms educational achievement while increasing spending improves educational achievement. Let’s see how badly Virginia has shot itself in the foot.
In the table below, I draw data from the Virginia state profile published by the National Center for Education Statistics. I compare National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for Virginia and the nation between 2007, before Virginia’s budget cuts took place, and 2011, the most recent figures available.
Lo and behold, despite the budget cuts, Virginia educational performance showed very little change for 4th- and 8th-grade math and reading, but improved measurably for 8th-grade science. (Figures for 4th-grade science were not available.) The Old Dominion gained 5 points across all categories.
I compared Virginia’s gains to national scores. Nationally, 8th-grade reading scores improved more than in Virginia, but science scores lost ground. All in all, the national scores gained 5 points as well.
Bacon’s Bottom line: Virginia cut educational spending more than the national average, but NAEP scores improved anyway — in line with the national average. We spend plenty of money on education in Virginia. What drives performance isn’t how much we spend as much as it’s how we spend it. (If that principle sounds familiar, you might have read the blog post about Bill Howell’s speech on transportation spending.)
Note to Sara: You can call educational spending an “investment,” but it doesn’t qualify as an “investment” unless you measure outcomes and conduct a Return on Investment analysis to determine if your expenditure yielded results. That analysis guides future investment. Without that discipline, it’s just “throwing money at the problem.”