Mackinac Center Weighs In On State’s Education Adequacy Study

Spending more money won't help unless it is spent in effective ways

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ben DeGrow
Education Policy Director
Chantal Lovell
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND — The group that called for increasing education funding in the District of Columbia — which spends over $29,000 a year per student — is now calling on Michigan to spend more.

According to a new study made public this week by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget, the state’s average school district operating expenditure of $12,000 per pupil is inadequate. The $399,000 report was a “comprehensive statewide cost study” the Michigan Legislature commissioned in December 2014 to assess whether current education spending is sufficient.

The Denver-based firm Augenblick, Palaich & Associates, which did the study, recommended funding increases in each of the 13 studies it conducted between 2003 and 2014. A total of 39 adequacy studies across the country were done by APA and other groups during that time, and in all but one case, researchers suggested spending more.

“Given that APA has always found education spending wasn’t enough, the conclusion that Michigan’s education funding is inadequate should come as no surprise,” said Ben DeGrow, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “The surprise is that their report fails to clearly state the amount of additional resources that are supposedly needed.”

APA’s report recommends changing the base per-pupil spending amount upward for many districts, and supplementing it with extra dollars for low-income and non-English-speaking students. But it does not present the state with an estimated price tag for these changes. Adequacy studies like the one released in Michigan have drawn extensive criticism from economists like Lynn University Professor of Education James Guthrie, a prolific author, school finance scholar and consultant for government agencies.

“For years, groups have been doing adequacy studies using similar methods, all trying to decide how much funding is needed for schools,” Guthrie said. “The problem is they lack a scientific basis in jumping to the preordained conclusion that more dollars will improve results for students.”

From 2003 to 2013, Michigan’s per-pupil spending increased by 11 percent in real terms, yet Education Week’s 2016 analysis of achievement trends found Michigan was the only state to lose ground on overall math and reading proficiency rates between the 2003 and 2015 national tests. Michigan’s spending ranks 21st, but the state is ranked 43rd when it comes to performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

Michigan’s experience supports the bulk of existing research — including a recent Mackinac Center study — that finds no statistically significant correlation between increased spending and student performance. In April, the Mackinac Center compared school-level test scores with funding from 2007 to 2013 and found spending more had virtually no impact on student test scores.

APA identified 54 Michigan school districts as “notably successful,” and these districts spend a weighted average of about $8,667 per pupil. But 19 of these districts achieve similar performance while spending 10 percent less than this amount.

“The state can spend more on education, but it won’t help students unless that money is spent in effective ways,” DeGrow said. “The fact that, of 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we found only one category where increased spending improved performance suggests existing resources are not being spent effectively.”

DeGrow noted that the only category with a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement was in seventh-grade math, and the increases were nominal, especially when compared with the costs of achieving such gains.

“Rather than use this latest adequacy study as a justification to demand more tax dollars be spent on education, lawmakers should take a serious look at how money is currently being spent and redirect funds to the classrooms and programs that impact students directly,” DeGrow said.

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