Nation’s leader in school choice dramatically outperforms peers, while spending much less

Robert Fellner

Earlier this week, Education Week released their K-12 Achievement Index, updated with the most recent federal data. The score is a comprehensive assessment of student performance which factors in math and reading proficiency at both the 4th and 8th grade level, high school graduation rates and advanced placement (AP) levels and test scores.

Nevada fell two spots since the last update, from 38th to 40th.

Florida, however, catapulted from an already impressive 11th to now having the 4th highest K-12 achievement ranking in the nation!

Florida is also home to what is by far the most expansive school choice program in the nation. So while it’s obviously inappropriate to conclude that a full-throated embrace of school choice is why Florida’s schools perform so well, it would seem to throw cold water on the claims of some that school choice harms education.

(The fact that such claims are made exclusively by those who gain from and are a part of the existing monopoly public school system is also worth considering, as is the vast body of academic literature that finds school choice improves performance, civic engagement and parental satisfaction.)

In the below chart, I’ve listed the K-12 Achievement Score of each state, as reported by Education Week in their September 2018 update, alongside that state’s 2016 per-pupil spending, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those dollar amounts have been adjusted to reflect the different price levels across the states, as calculated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ Regional Price Parities report.

So while New York’s actual per-pupil spending was $22,366, it is reported as $19,348 in the chart below after accounting for its significantly above average cost of living.

The chart reveals absolutely no correlation between spending and performance, which once again reaffirms the notion that Nevada’s education woes stem more from a broken, top-down monopoly provider, rather than insufficient funding.

Despite this, however, those within the education establishment insist that further increasing Nevada’s per-pupil spending is the only way to improve performance.

It is, therefore, worth noting that an expansion in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program would do exactly that.

Because those scholarships cost significantly less than the per-pupil amount spent by Nevada’s public school system, each scholarship granted translates into an increase in per-pupil funding for the students who remain in the traditional public school system.

Talk about a win-win. Students get to find a school that suits their needs, while advocates of the status quo get to see if yet another year (I’m at 40 and counting….) of increased funding is finally enough to turn the ship around.

Robert Fellner is policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute

(Update: Florida’s ranking rose even further since this article was first published, and was ranked 3rd best nationwide in 2020.)

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Policy Director

Robert Fellner joined the Nevada Policy in December 2013 and currently serves as Policy Director. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also developed and directed Nevada Policy’s public-interest litigation strategy, which led to two landmark victories before the Nevada Supreme Court. The first resulted in a decision that expanded the public’s right to access government records, while the second led to expanded taxpayer standing for constitutional challenges in Nevada.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider,, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register,, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.