Asked whether giving Texas public schools more money would their improve performance, Texas House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock — a Republican from Killeen — said rather hesitantly on Thursday that “there would be some improvement, yes.”
The more typical Republican response is that the amount of money doesn’t matter, but rather how it’s spent. New research released this week suggests otherwise, at least for low-income students.
A revised working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research draws a causal connection between court-mandated increases in per-student funding beginning in the 1970s and “long-run adult outcomes” for low-income students in particular, including higher graduation rates, higher earnings and a lower incidence of poverty.
The study, which tracked 15,353 students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia born between 1955 and 1985, found “small effects” for increased funding for wealthier students, but that a 10-percent increase in per-student spending for poorer students each year for all 12 years of public school resulted in nearly a half-year of additional completed education, nearly 10 percent higher earnings and a nearly 7 percent reduction in the annual incident of adult poverty.
“The results make important contributions to the human capital literature and highlight how improved access to school resources can profoundly shape the life outcomes of economically disadvantaged children, and thereby significantly reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” wrote the authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California at Berkeley.
The study, which notes that Texas is one of only three states that has seen five or more court cases overruling its school funding system, also found that spending increases resulted in “sizable improvements in measured school quality, including reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years.”
However, the study also acknowledges that money is not the only key to improved student outcomes.
“Money alone may not be sufficient, but our findings indicate that provision of adequate funding may be a necessary condition,” it said.
During a Texas Public Policy Foundation panel earlier this month, former Texas Supreme Court justice Craig T. Enoch said that there has been no evidence given in the current school finance lawsuit demonstrating how much it takes to educate a child in Texas, i.e. what is adequate per-student funding.
“I don’t believe the Legislature wants to know how much it costs to educate a child for fear it may be more than what they allocate and the ISDs (independent school districts) don’t want to know how much it costs to educate a child because they’re scared it will be less,” he said.
The yet-to-be-published study