State Can’t Spend Its Way to Student Success

For years, the educational establishment has claimed that not enough is being spent on public schools – that if more money is pumped into the system, student achievement will improve.  Unfortunately, too many policymakers have bought into the “more dollars equals more scholars” myth.
Last year, Governor Rendell proposed increasing public school funding by $2.6 billion over the next six years in an effort to bring spending to the “necessary” level recommended in the General Assembly’s Costing Out Study.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly, while expecting a different result.  For the past quarter-century, in response to growing concerns from parents and the business community over lagging test scores and a lack of readiness for adult life, America has been trying to spend its way to student achievement.  Pennsylvania is not the exception to the rule.  The amount of  tax dollars invested in the Pennsylvania public school systems over this period is staggering:
During the 1980-81 school year, average per-pupil spending in Pennsylvania was $2,842.  During the 2007-08 school year, the average per-pupil spending had jumped to $13,183 – a 364 percent increase in just 25 years, while inflation over the same period was only 141 percent.
If we follow the educational establishment’s logic, since we’ve doubled the amount of money we are spending on public education in Pennsylvania, we should be getting much better results from our public schools today than what we were in 1980, right?  Wrong.
Consider: In 1986, Pennsylvania students, on average, had an SAT score of 1,000.  Flash forward to 2008, and the average SAT score has dropped to 995.
What’s more, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) recently released Report Card on American Education, there is no correlation between class size, teachers’ salaries, and per-pupil expenditures and student achievement, as measured by standardized tests like the ACT, SAT and NAEP.
If Einstein was alive today and presented with the above information, we might hear him describe our approach to education as insane.
In our opinion, the reason that we are seeing modest gains in our student’s NAEP scores over the past few years is not because we are spending more money on our public school system, it is because we are allowing greater numbers of students access to an education that is better suited to their individual educational needs.
Since the mid 1990s, Pennsylvania has seen the introduction of several innovations that are making a real difference in how our students are educated.  The growth of charter schools, and more recently of cyber charter schools, has allowed numerous families to find another non-traditional public school that better meets their educational needs.  And, since 2001, Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program has been providing scholarships to tens of thousands of students to attend a non-public school that is a better fit for them.
The result of these educational options has been to allow approximately 15 percent of students in Pennsylvania to move from an educational system that is not working to one that is.  Simply put, more choice – not more money for public schools – is the way to ensure student achievement and save taxpayers money.

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Andrew T. LeFevre is the executive director of the REACH Alliance & REACH Foundation ( Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (

EDITOR’S NOTE: A copy of ALEC’s 2009 Report Card on American Education can be accessed at