Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty: Study scrutinizes public school spending, non-teacher staffing

Cameron Sholty | WILL Communications Director
cameron@will-law.org | 414-727-7416 | 262-409-9816
Report casts doubt on link between academic outcomes and spending
August 7, 2018 – Milwaukee, WI – With campaigns in full swing, candidates are frantically trying to outdo each other in promising to spend more money on K-12 public schools. Yet little debate is had over the relationship between additional school funding and student performance.
This is a topic that deserves in-depth research. To get the ball rolling, WILL Research Director Will Flanders, Ph.D., looked at the relationship between test scores and the number of non-teachers in a school district, per pupil spending in a district, and teacher pay in a new report titled Money for Nothing: The Relationship Between Various Types of School Funding and Academic Outcomes. None of these factors seem to be linked to higher student test scores.
Dr. Flanders gathered data at the school district level on a number of categories of spending over a six year period. These include the number of non-teaching staff in a school district, the average pay of teachers in a district, and the overall per student spending in a distict. The dynamic changes both within and across districts on each of these variables creates a natural experiment for comparison with student outcomes.  Using a statistical analysis that accounted for other plausible causes of student performance, he compared each spending variable with student performance.  Among the key findings of this research:
  • School districts have increased their hiring of non-teachers, pay adminstrators 305% of teachers. The average school district hires 40.4% non-teacher with 101 districts having at least 50% of non-teachers making up their employees. School administrators make on average 305% of the average teacher in their district. Some districts such as Kenosha, Milwaukee, Madison, and Peshtigo pay their distict administrator more than 400% of the average teacher.
  • Yet, the number of non-teachers on staff has a negative effect on student test scores. When it comes to English proficiency on state exams, districts with more non-teachers have lower proficiency rates than districts with a higher percentage of teachers controlling for other factors known to relate to proficiency.
  • Teacher pay has kept up with inflation, no relationship to student test scores. Despite claims to the contrary, average teacher pay in Wisconsin is similar to six years ago, accounting for inflation. Our analysis shows that there is no statistically significant relationship between a district’s spending on teacher pay and student test scores.
  • As other studies have shown, there is no statistically significant relationship between overall per student spending and test scores. In fact, when proper control variables are included, school districts that spend more per student have lower academic proficiency in both math and English.
Dr. Flanders said:
“When it comes to spending on K-12 public schools, Wisconsin is at the point of diminishing returns and just does not receive a return on investment for children. The state should look at other options—such as increasing competition through choice and charter schools, both of which are drastically underfunded compared to their public schools.”
The full study can be found here.
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