A Look at the Value of Education


Reporter and writer Lloyd Brown, explores the value of education, teacher unions and education spending on floridapolitics.com.

This year the Florida Legislature increased funding for public schools by $248 per pupil, and a total K-12 budget of $21 billion. Predictably, news stories and editorials complained it was not enough and that schools remain “underfunded.”

Such claims focus on inputs and ignore outputs.

Education is a service. The amount spent on a service is less relevant than the value of the service.

“Value” means getting a product or service that is as good or better than a product or service that costs as much or more.

To some, merely throwing money at public schools is all important. They call it an “investment.” Yet, they never produce any evidence that taxpayers get a decent return on their investment.

Four decades ago one Florida Governor, a Democrat, proposed to raise spending so that Florida was in the “upper quartile” of spending on education. It was claimed that this would help students learn. No evidence was given to support that claim and the Democrat majority in the legislature rejected his proposal.

Test scores began showing improvement after Gov. Jeb Bush introduced standards and accountability 20 years ago.

Nevertheless, some continue to insist that Florida must spend more on education. Leading the clamor are the teacher union bosses.

When spending increases, teacher salaries increase. As teacher salaries increase, union revenues increase. As union revenues increase, unions have more money to contribute to the election campaigns of candidates who pledge to increase education spending.

Rinse, repeat.

Rational people prefer to ask: What do we get for the money we spend?

The following comparison of inputs and outputs came from Ballotpedia, which attributes the numbers to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

state schools students teachers per pupil $ math 4 math 8 read 4 read 8 Grad. rate
Florida 4,269 2,692,162 176,537 $8,433 41% 31% 39% 33% 76%
Alabama 1,637 744,637 51,877 $8,755 30% 20% 31% 25% 80%
Georgia 2,387 1,703,332 109,365 $9,099 39% 29% 34% 32% 72%
Mississippi 1,063 493,650 32,613 $8,130 26% 21% 21% 20% 76%
U.S. 98,454 49,771,118 3,109,101 $10,700 41% 34% 34% 34% 81%

Clearly, Florida gets good value from what it spends on K-12 education.

It spends less per pupil than the U.S. average, and less than all but one neighboring state, yet equals or exceeds in achievement in nearly every category.

Arguably, the most important number is the fourth-grade NAEP reading score. If a student can’t read by the end of the fourth grade, almost nothing else matters. Florida does better than the average state.
The notion that schools are underfunded is repeated as rote constantly. Google “Florida editorials underfunded schools” and you get an astounding 122,000 results.

Yet, in no editorial is any evidence produced to demonstrate underfunding.

The chart shows huge spending increases over a 40-year period without noticeable improvement in results.

It is incumbent upon those who continue to claim that public schools are underfunded, especially in Florida, to make a better case. Simply stating something as a fact is not a valid argument.