Has increased education spending in schools improved student performance in test scores?

When I want a raise, I work harder, but these teachers hold up signs
When I want a raise, I work harder, but lazy teachers quit working to hold signs

One of my friends has been having a debate with one of his former teachers about whether spending more money on government-run education improves tests scores. He tried posting some evidence, but she just dismissed that by claiming:

  1. If we hadn’t spent more money, then the student test scores would have gone down instead of staying the same.
  2. Most of the money that government spends on education goes to vouchers and private schools, not public schools
  3. Economists at prestigious think tanks like that Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute cannot be trusted to accurately cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics because of the Koch Brothers
  4. You can’t compare the test scores of American students with the test scores of Asian students who outperform them, (for less government spending), because math is different in Asia compared to America

Let’s look at some data and see if her arguments are correct.

Does more spending mean higher student performance?

National Review reported on data collected in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which spans all 50 states.


Comparing educational achievement with per-pupil spending among states also calls into question the value of increasing expenditures. While high-spending Massachusetts had the nation’s highest proficiency scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, low-spending Idaho did very well, too. South Dakota ranks 42nd in per-pupil expenditures but eighth in math performance and ninth in reading. The District of Columbia, meanwhile, with the nation’s highest per-pupil expenditures ($15,511 in 2007), scores dead last in achievement.

The student test scores are dead last, but National Review notes that “according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C. was spending an average of $27,460 per pupil in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available.” They are spending the most per-pupil, but their test scores are dead last.

CBS News reported on another recent study confirming this:

Decades of increased taxpayer spending per student in U.S. public schools has not improved student or school outcomes from that education, and a new study finds that throwing money at the system is simply not tied to academic improvements.

The study from the CATO Institute shows that American student performance has remained poor, and has actually declined in mathematics and verbal skills, despite per-student spending tripling nationwide over the same 40-year period.

“The takeaway from this study is that what we’ve done over the past 40 years hasn’t worked,” Andrew Coulson, director of the Center For Educational Freedom at the CATO Institute, told Watchdog.org. “The average performance change nationwide has declined 3 percent in mathematical and verbal skills. Moreover, there’s been no relationship, effectively, between spending and academic outcomes.”

The study, “State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years,” analyzed how billions of increased taxpayer dollars, combined with the number of school employees nearly doubling since 1970, to produce stagnant or declining academic results.

“The performance of 17-year-olds has been essentially stagnant across all subjects despite a near tripling of the inflation-adjusted cost of putting a child through the K-12 system,” writes Coulson.

Where did the numbers come from? The Koch Brothers? No:

Data from the U.S. Department of Education incorporating public school costs, number of employees, student enrollment and SAT scores was analyzed to explore the disparity between increased spending and decreasing or stagnant academic results.

Well, at least government-run monopoly schools outperform private private schools, right? No:

[…][P]rivate schools, where students excel over public school peers, …manage to operate at budgets about 34 percent lower than taxpayer-funded schools, US Finance Post reports.

Public schools spend, on average, $11,000 per student, per year.

Coulson noted an Arizona study he conducted which showed that the average per-pupil spending at private schools was only about 66 percent of the cost of public schools.

A more recent state-specific study from 2016 found that this is still the case.

This problem gets even worse when you look at test scores from other countries, where even less is spent on education.

As the Washington Post reported at the end of 2016:

When it comes to math, U.S. high school students are falling further behind their international counterparts, according to results released Tuesday of an ongoing study that compares academic achievement in 73 countries. And the news is not much better in reading and science literacy, where U.S. high schoolers have not gained any ground and continue to trail students in a slew of developed countries around the globe.

In the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measuring math literacy in 2015, U.S. students ranked 40th in the world. The U.S. average math score of 470 represents the second decline in the past two assessments — down from 482 in 2012 and 488 in 2009. The U.S. score in 2015 was 23 points lower than the average of all of the nations taking part in the survey.

More money is being spent, but the scores are DECREASING.

Now, why is it that increased government spending in the public school monopoly doesn’t improve student performance? Well, one reason is that very little of the money makes it to the classroom.

Where does all the money go?

Let’s look at four places where the money spent on the government-run public school monopoly ends up.


First, a lot of it gets paid to administrations who implement politically correct programs designed to turn the impressionable young people into little secular socialists.

Here’s a helpful chart from the American Enterprise Institute:

Where does taxpayer money spent on the public school monopoly go?
Where does taxpayer money spent on the public school monopoly go?

I guess if a school wants to make things like Planned Parenthood sex education and LGBT indoctrination into priorities, then they would need more administrators.


Second, education employees get enormous pensions, which are paid by taxpayers and negotiated by their unions. You would never see pensions this large in the private sector.

This is from the leftist Brookings Institute, from 2014:

This figure shows we now spend nearly $1,100 per student on retirement benefits. The average public school student teacher ratio is 16 to 1. So we are spending about $17,000 per year per teacher in pension contributions.

[…]The National Council on Teacher Quality writes,

In 2014 teacher pension systems had a total of a half trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities—a debt load that climbed more than $100 billion in just the last two years. Across the states, an average of 70 cents of every dollar contributed to state teacher pension systems goes toward paying off the ever-increasing pension debt, not to future teacher benefits (p. iii).

While we are spending a huge amount to fund teacher pensions, most of that spending doesn’t go to attracting the best teachers. It’s paying off past debts.

We can’t hire good teachers, because all the education spending of today is paying for the gold-plated pensions of yesterday.

That was 2014. The numbers are even worse today. Teachers contribute very, very little to their pensions, but the benefits are enormous compared to what the private sector taxpayers get in Social Security. (Which is going to be bankrupt by 2034, as reported by the far-left PBS)

Teacher training

Third, a lot of it is spent on teacher training, because apparently teaching multiplication, Shakespeare or geography changes every year, so the teachers need tens of thousands of dollars in annual training.

The Washington Post reports on a recent study:

A new study of 10,000 teachers found that professional development — the teacher workshops and training that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year — is largely a waste.

The study released Tuesday by TNTP, a nonprofit organization, found no evidence that any particular approach or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve in the classroom.

[…]The school districts that participated in the study spent an average of $18,000 per teacher annually on professional development. Based on that figure, TNTP estimates that the 50 largest school districts spend an estimated $8 billion on teacher development annually. That is far larger than previous estimates.

And teachers spend a good deal of time in training, the study found. The 10,000 teachers surveyed were in training an average of 19 school days a year, or almost 10 percent of a typical school year, according to TNTP.

Maybe if more of the money spent on education were spent directly on hiring teachers, then we would see an improvement. Unfortunately, a lot of the money meant for teachers goes to the teacher unions. How do they spend that money?

Political Contributions

Finally, this is from OpenSecrets.org, concerning political contributions made in the most recent election cycle:

Top Political Contributors in 2016 election cycle
Top Political Contributors in 2016 election cycle

The two largest teacher unions came in at #9 and #11. Most of their donations go to Democrat Party. Democrats believe (against the evidence) that spending more money in the government-run public school monopoly will improve student performance on tests.

So, what’s the solution?

The solution is that we abolish the federal Department of Education, which has done nothing to improve the quality of education for students. We need to push the education of children back down to the state and local levels. We need to empower parents to choose the schools that work best for their children by giving parents vouchers. We need to increase tax-free education savings accounts to help parents with school expenses. We should also give free college tuition to homeschooled students who are admitted to STEM programs at any college or university. We can take the money from the pensions of the union administrators, after we abolish ever single public sector teacher union in the country, and seize all their assets and pensions. If that’s not enough money, then we can seize all the pensions of Department of Education employees – a just punishment for their failure to produce results while still taking taxpayer money.

Finally, we should allow people who already have private sector experience doing things like STEM to become teachers. Let’s face it: the departments that grant Education degrees have the lowest entrance requirements, and produce the least competent adults. People with years of private sector work experience teach better than people with Education degrees. Let’s open up teaching to people who have experience in the private sector doing software engineering, statistics, nursing, etc. and then we’ll have qualified teachers.

10 thoughts on “Has increased education spending in schools improved student performance in test scores?”

  1. Public schools need major reform!!! They’re all blatantly Leftist, and biased against conservatives! They’re brainwashing the next generation of snowflakes! My own experience as one of alienation, and being an outsider to the cliques and teachers, who I tried to impress! I loved learning and couldn’t care less about stupid kids stuff, or teen stuff later on, all I wanted was a more sophisticated, adult like relationship with my teachers so I could be mentored and learn from them. I wanted them to stimulate my intellectual grown. But no!!! I was pressured to fit into the mold of the stupid teenage thumb-sucker, the “sheeple” student body! Brings up a lot of resentment to even think about 😦 There were positive things, good teachers etc… but the bad was at least 50/50 with the good….


    1. “I loved learning and couldn’t care less about stupid kids stuff, or teen stuff later on, all I wanted was a more sophisticated, adult like relationship with my teachers so I could be mentored and learn from them.”

      That statement says it all. You are what we call in the homeschooling community “the ideal student.” I cannot begin to tell you how much you would have benefitted from homeschooling, or private schooling of some sort. You still turned out great, but I’ll bet it was one heck of a road to get your head back on straight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks!!! I always loved intellect! I’m still saddened by how those teachers tried to force me into the mold of the stupid thumb sucker, and my intellect was construed as a sign of mental disability!


        1. The same thing happened to my older brother, and he was definitely the brains of the family. He never got a degree and suffered tremendously through life because of it. I got 4 degrees on nothing but overachievement. The public schools screwed him up, and where does he go to get that back?!? It is so sad.
          You are so much like him in your intellect, LOR.
          And remember, back then, the schools were infinitely better than they are now. I seriously question what anyone – secular or Christian or other – is thinking when they turn their children over to those dens of iniquity for 7 hours a day. Do they REALLY think that they can compensate for that kind of abuse in the evenings and on weekends?!? Do they really not realize how subtle, and constant, the brainwashing is?
          Bless you, Lady.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I am so so grateful my family raised me to think for myself! Without the people I respected and looked up to most, I would most likely have turned out a snowflake! It’s only being talked to openly and honesty from a very young age about these issues I could fight against them!


  2. “If we hadn’t spent more money, then the student test scores would have gone down instead of staying the same.”

    To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, it is impossible to respond to these kinds of heads I win, tails you lose assertions except to say that they would justify any policy regarding anything anywhere.


  3. It’s not just the money. Public schools, like in business, church, and other organizations, is all about bureaucracy.

    My five kids go to public school. Trying to get them educated is a daily and uphill battle. The administration, the teachers, the support staff, precious few truly care about educating children. They do whatever it takes to meet the state standards, and that’s it.

    Rather than the state standards being minimum targets, they become the maximum targets. The focus is on teaching to the test and not worrying about doing more than that. As long as the right boxes get checked, everything is great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just realized that my primary point was probably not very clear.

      Since the goal of the school is to meet their notion of the state standard, any money added to a school that meets school standards will be utterly wasted, as they’ve already accomplished their educational objectives. Anyone expecting improvements beyond the base requirements just does not understand how education works.

      At least in theory money going to failing (below state standards) schools could help, but that’s only if the only problem with failing schools is primarily monetary. It rarely is, however.


  4. I think that we should definitely do our best as Christians to improve the public schools so as to love our neighbor, but I really do believe that it is essentially spiritual abuse for a Christian to send their children into the government indoctrination centers at this point.

    Even many atheists / secularists are homeschooling for this reason – they don’t want their child’s worldview abused by the Left – I did as an unbeliever too, and I am very thankful for it, because not only did the Christians in my homeschool group remove my last stumbling block to Christ but they also demonstrated what authentic Christian Orthopraxy looked like – something I had never witnessed before when looking at the churches.

    I actually thought (as an atheist) that ALL professing Christians were just atheists with one fewer hour on Sundays. (Yes, I REALLY believed that, and I doubt I was alone.) I learned that, although that may be largely true, there is an “underground” of Christians who live out their lives authentically. And, I will never forget exactly where I was when I said to myself “these people actually EXIST.” (Conversion came not too long after.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds like the failure of the school system to the left is like the failure of socialism. A mystery why it gets worse but it would be so much worse if they weren’t in charge.

    They continually refuse to believe their views are failing


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