School Funding Doesn’t Matter? TPPF and TAB Get it Wrong!

Posted on April 22, 2011

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In a recent roundtable interview with education “experts”*(see endnote) in Texas Monthly entitled “Night of the Living Ed” that can be found at http://www.texasmonthly.com/2011-05-01/feature2.php, a number of dubious statements were made. This is the kind of article and talk that makes my head explode. I have the same reaction when watching either the Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee. Why? Because people make “facts” up on the spot and pass them off as truth when there is empirical studies and easily accessible data that show the opposite of what they claim.

This strategy is employed by folks across the political spectrum, but seems to be a favorite strategy of certain (not all) conservative groups.

Now, the conversation below does not appear like outright lying, but both Mr. Hammond and especially Ms.  Wolgemuth should know better than to make the following statements:

Louis Malfaro: I think Scott (McCown) raised an interesting issue, this tension in Texas between wanting to be a low-tax state and wanting to be a leader in education reform. Look at the Quality Counts report that Education Week3 comes out with every year. In “Standards” they give us an A because we have built an academic system with high expectations. On “Implementation” we get a C because we’re not reaching those standards. On “Funding” we get an F, benchmarked against other states around the country. So clearly the funding is where we are falling down. A lot of us feel like for the money that’s being spent, Texas is actually doing fairly well. The problem is, we’re a laggard when it comes to real investment in education.

Bill Hammond (President of Texas Association of Businesses, otherwise known as TAB):            I don’t agree with that for a minute. In the first place, I don’t think there is any relationship between funding and academic performance. I don’t think anybody has ever shown that.

Arlene Wohlgemuth (Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, or TPPF): Not only that, but personnel has increased a little over 70 percent from 1989 to 2009, and enrollment increased only 44 percent. So we have some other problems in the local districts, in addition to what’s happening at the state level.

Despite the beliefs held by Mr. Hammond and Ms. Wolgemuth, there is, in fact, research that shows funding is related to student outcomes.  These statements fall in the category of what  Bruce Baker calls Reformy Myth #4 in his post School Funding Myths & Stepping Outside the “New Normal” on his outstanding blog, Schoolfinance101@wordpress.com

Bruce, a friend of mine, outs it this way:

Reformy myth #4: None of this school funding stuff matters anyway. It doesn’t matter what the overall level of funding is and it doesn’t matter how that funding is distributed. As evidence of this truthiness, reformers point to 30+ years of huge spending growth coupled with massive class size reduction and they argue… flat NAEP scores, low international performance and flat SAT scores. Therefore, if we simply cut funding back to 1980 levels (adjusted only for the CPI) and fire bad teachers, we can achieve the same level of outcomes for one heck of a lot less money.

Reality: First of all, these comparisons of spending now to spending then are bogus. I address the various factors that influence the changing costs of achieving desired educational outcomes in this post: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/understanding-education-costs-versus-inflation/. Second, rigorous peer reviewed studies do show that state school finance reforms matter. Shifting the level of funding can improve the quality of teacher workforce and ultimately the level of student outcomes and shifting the distribution of resources can shift the distribution of outcomes. http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=16106 Similarly, constraining education spending growth over the long term can significantly harm the quality of public schools. See: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/a-few-quick-notes-on-tax-and-expenditure-limits-tels/

With all due respect to Mr. Hammond and Ms. Wolgemuth, the fact that they do not know of any studies that show funding affects outcomes does not mean such studies do not exist. As Dr. Baker–one of the most well-respected school finance experts in the country and an expert witness for the State of Texas in a previous school finance case–states, school funding does impact student outcomes and education quality!!!

Now, it matters WHAT you spend the money on, but money does matter despite what some continue to claim.

Thanks to Bruce Baker for writing such a terrific blog and providing some actual FACTS about key reform and school finance issues.

* Some of these individuals should truly be considered experts. However, I was thoroughly dismayed that not one researcher as incited to participate! Not one! The TM should have at a researcher verify the veracity of statements before publishing them. Better yet, TM should have had a researcher participate who could have quickly corrected the many mis-truths and outright falsehoods presented by some of these so-called experts.

Some studies that find a positive relationship between expenditures and achievement:

Targeted Funding for Educationally Disadvantaged Students: A Regression Discontinuity Estimate of the Impact on High School Student AchievementDetail Only Available . By: Henry, Gary T.; Fortner, C. Kevin; Thompson, Charles L.. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, v32 n2 p183-204 Jun 2010.

How Much Does Funding Matter? An Analysis of Elementary and Secondary School Performance in Missouri, 1990-2004Detail Only Available . By: Venteicher, Jerome. Journal of Educational Research & Policy Studies, v5 n2 p39-65 Fall 2005.

Education Funding and Low-Income Children: A Review of Current Research. Carey, Kevin (2002). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, DC.

Abstract: This paper examines the results of current research on education funding for low income children, noting findings in three areas: the overall relationship between education funding and student performance, recent estimates of the amount of additional funding needed to narrow the poverty-based academic achievement gap, and specific resource-intensive strategies that have been shown to benefit students in general, and low income students in particular. Results indicate that student achievement is linked to school funding levels; claims that large increases in school funding have already been made are overstated; claims of stagnant achievement growth are overstated; schools need significant additional funds to educate low income students; and schools can use additional funds for low income students to implement resource-intensive educational improvement strategies that have been shown to improve student achievement (including class size reduction, improved teacher quality, and early childhood education).

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