Grand Haven High School, a suburban school near Muskegon, received an 'A' on the Mackinac Center's new high school report card, which means that student test scores from 2008 to 2011 were better than expected, on average, given the socioeconomic background of its students.
Almost 26 percent of the school's students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
On the other side of the state, Chippewa Valley High School, a suburban school near Clinton Township north of Detroit, received a 'D' on the high school report card. Almost 21 percent of Chippewa Valley students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Grand Haven outperformed Chippewa Valley in two ways: Its students did better than expected, and the school spent less.
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act required schools to report per-pupil spending of state and local funds. This is a unique opportunity, because the state of Michigan provides spending data by district, which can mask school-level differences.
For the 2008-09 school year, Grand Haven reported spending $2,656 per pupil on school employee salaries. Chippewa Valley reported spending 30 percent more — $3,443 per pupil.[i]
The apparent disconnect between spending and performance when comparing Grand Haven and Chippewa Valley is not an anomaly; in fact, it’s a trend that holds statewide.
Comparing scores on the Mackinac Center's Context and Performance report card to the U.S. Department of Education per-pupil school spending data fails to find a significant positive relationship between the two.
Of the 528 conventional public high schools for which there was both CAP and per-pupil spending data, schools reported spending an average of $2,913 per pupil on employee salaries.
The top 10 conventional high schools reported a wide range of per-pupil spending: At the high end, Covert High School (CAP score: 115.3) reported spending $5,970 per pupil, while Fairview High School (CAP score: 113.8) reported spending $2,617.
Of the bottom 10 conventional high schools, Detroit City High School (CAP score: 73.4) reported spending the most, at $4,044 per pupil, while Osborn Upper School of Global Communications and Culture (CAP score: 79.5) reported spending $2,514 per pupil.
These new data provide additional support to the notion that when it comes to school spending, how money is spent is more important than how much of it is spent.
[i] These numbers reflect state and local funds spent on teacher and other instructional and support staff, but do not include spending on employee benefits, nor do they include special programs such as special education spending, summer programs, nutrition programs and adult education spending.