To further illustrate the wrongheadedness of the study, consider its recommendation for two Southwestern Pennsylvania school districts that are performing well, namely, Mt. Lebanon in Allegheny County and Peters Township in Washington County. The percentages of students achieving proficient or higher marks in elementary, middle, and high schools are remarkably similar for the two districts, with both posting scores in the 90s for the most part in reading and math. Proficiency scores in the two districts stood 25 to 30 percentage points above the state as a whole.
Here’s the problem for the study’s authors. According to their spending definition, Mt. Lebanon spent $10,684 per pupil in 2005-2006 while Peters Township spent $7,638. So what did the authors recommend? They say Peters should boost its spending by $3,000 per pupil while Mt. Lebanon needs to increase its outlays by only $200. In other words, to achieve essentially the same percentage improvement in already outstanding student test scores, Peters would have to hike its expenditures by 40 percent and Mt. Lebanon two percent.
Finally, if the study’s findings are to be believed and accepted by the Legislature and the administration, then the state should immediately reduce its $200 million allocation to the Pittsburgh School District. Why? According to the report, Pittsburgh schools spent $15,078 per student in 2005-2006. At the same time, they say that it should require only $12,560 to have every Pittsburgh student testing at the proficient or higher level. With the enrollment currently standing at 28,000, the state could save at least $70 million by lowering its funding to the District by the $2,500 per pupil the report says the District is overspending. Of course, some fancy footwork will be needed to show Pittsburgh how it can move from less than 20 percent of students scoring at the proficiency level in some schools to the 100 percent level with substantially fewer dollars to spend.
Allegheny Institute Policy Brief on the “costing out study”.