How Efficiently Do Virginia School Districts Use Their Money? Answers at Last.

In 2005, Virginians paid public schools $10.8 billion in state and local taxes to educate 1.78 million students, for an average per-pupil-cost of $9,202. What did we get for our money? As the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute (CBLPI) asks:

Are school districts putting tax dollars to the best and highest use? Do Virginians get a good return in student achievement from school districts on the tax dollars invested? Do all school districts operate with equal cost-efficiency, or do some districts produce desired educational achievement results at a better “price” to taxpayers than others?

Concludes the Institute in its newly released study, “No Guarantees: Rating the Cost Efficiency of Virginia’s School Districts“:
  • The “price” Virginians paid for a single average percentage point of English and mathematics achievement varied widely among school districts, from Poquoson City School District’s exceptionally cost-efficient $77.68 to Sussex County School District’s exceptionally cost-inefficient $204.32.
  • Fifty-five school districts (fewer than half) used public funds efficiently, producing good educational achievement results at a low to moderate taxpayer cost.

  • Neither wealth nor percentage of economically disadvantaged students was a predictor of a school district’s efficiency.

  • Overall results suggest that biennial across-the-board “rebenchmarked” increases in state funding (a) exacerbate cost-inefficiency and (b) obscure inefficient districts’ more critical need for state professional and technical support to raise educational achievement.
Notes on methodology: CBLPI adapted a methodology developed by Yankee Institute for Public Policy Studies in Connecticut. Using 2005 numbers, it calculated a district’s “Goal Attainment Average,” the number of students who passed their English Standards of Learninge exams plus the percentage who passed their math SOLs. Then it calculated a “Cost Benefit Value” by dividing the district’s per pupil spending by its Goal Attainment Average. Finally, CBLPI adjusted for the significant wage differential between Northern Virginia school districts and RoVa school districts.

(Photo cutline: The James Monroe Building, headquarters of the Virginia Department of Education. Photo credit: Picasaweb.)

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3 responses to “How Efficiently Do Virginia School Districts Use Their Money? Answers at Last.”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    VERY impressive work!


    now the question is.. what should Kaine and the GA do about this…. if anything..?

    just really excellent data…

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    from the report: ..”The Commonwealth of Virginia does not currently assess the cost-efficiency of its public school districts.

    Absent such an assessment, the Governor and state legislators can make no guarantee to Virginians that tax dollars devoted to the state’s public school system are being put to the best and highest use.”

    I don’t want to beat up on Republicans but to be perfectly honest, it is issues like this that I expect leadership from folks who claim to be fiscal conservatives.

    We all know what to expect from the tax&spend.. “throw more money at the problem” and the education community’s refrain “if you want more, pay more”…mantras

    Also from the Report:

    …”Does cost-efficiency of state programs matter? Virginia Governor Tim Kaine says it does. Confronted with a state budget shortfall in excess of $641 million, Governor Kaine recently advised state legislative finance committees that the state would “need to look for new ways of doing business that are more efficient.”

    The most logical place to begin evaluating efficiency is the state’s single largest program, its public school system, which consumes more than a third of state government’s budget and over half of all local governments’
    budgets. “

    I could not have said this more better myself.

    So .. our “big thinkers” in the GA do what?

    Well.. abuser fees… for one…

    It’s our own fault though.. even with an excellent report like this.. I’ll bet almost no one even asks their GA rep about it and I fear that even if they were asked that most of the GA members would be unaware of it.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I do have some minor quibbles with the methodology.. more along the lines of getting some better metrics and clarity.

    For instance, I’d like to see more about the correlation between money and a high percentage of demographically disadvantaged percentages.

    Also.. adjust salaries for ALL jurisdictions – especially those where teachers might actually get less than their peers than demographically comparative localities.

    But.. those are tweaks…

    Once we have a trusted methodology for cost-effectiveness that is based on money and testing results then we have a way to deal with schools that will not or cannot change.

    The next step.. after warnings should be increased scrutiny to help the state drill down on WHY there are performance problems.

    Once the problems have been identified a schedule can be established to bring the school along

    I’m not in favor of “punishing” the school for failing to perform but at some point, if for whatever reason, the school is not progressing then I’d be in favor of vouchers … with the following IRONCLAD Proviso:

    No provider of educational services can qualify to receive vouchers UNLESS they meet the same exact performance standards put on the public schools.

    The same SOLs, the same NCLB and the same Cost Effectiveness Standards.

    But these schools that qualify would also get their share of the SOQ money.

    If we are going to have competition – then we need to have a totally level playing field.

    And I would exclude the costs for Special Ed and ESL from the calculation.

    Basically – any kids with normal IQs and physical/mental abilities would be included in the cost-effectiveness pool.

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