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.

State K-12 Achievement Score (2018) RPP-adjusted Per-Pupil Spending (2016) Spending Rank K-12 Achievement Rank
Massachusetts 88 $14,465 13 1
New Jersey 84.7 $16,256 7 2
Virginia 79.8 $11,175 31 3
Florida 78.4 $8,947 48 4
Maryland 77.7 $12,974 18 5
New Hampshire 77.2 $14,485 12 6
Minnesota 76.5 $12,699 20 7
Indiana 76.3 $10,915 34 8
Pennsylvania 76 $15,669 8 9
Washington 74.8 $10,933 33 10
Georgia 74.7 $10,607 37 11
Connecticut 74.6 $17,441 3 12
Utah 73.9 $7,146 51 13
Colorado 73.8 $9,296 45 14
Ohio 73.6 $13,552 16 15
Illinois 73.3 $14,338 14 16
Wisconsin 73.2 $12,345 23 17
Wyoming 73.1 $17,003 4 18
Nebraska 73 $13,590 15 19
Vermont 73 $17,592 2 20
New York 72.8 $19,348 1 21
California 72.4 $10,048 41 22
North Carolina 72 $9,672 43 23
Idaho 72 $7,696 50 24
Arizona 71.6 $7,938 49 25
Maine 71.2 $13,494 17 26
Hawaii 71 $11,611 26 27
Tennessee 70.8 $9,767 42 28
Texas 70.6 $9,304 44 29
Rhode Island 70.5 $15,594 9 30
Kentucky 70.4 $11,233 30 31
Iowa 69.9 $12,361 22 32
Kansas 68.9 $11,006 32 33
Delaware 68.8 $14,684 10 34
South Dakota 68.6 $10,392 38 35
Missouri 68.4 $11,523 27 36
Montana 68.3 $12,060 25 37
Michigan 67.8 $12,506 21 38
North Dakota 67.7 $14,615 11 39
Nevada 67.3 $9,199 46 40
West Virginia 66.6 $12,889 19 41
District of Columbia 66.5 $16,531 6 42
Alabama 66.1 $10,665 36 43
Oregon 65.8 $10,864 35 44
Arkansas 64.8 $11,330 29 45
Mississippi 64.1 $10,072 40 46
Oklahoma 64 $9,098 47 47
South Carolina 63.6 $11,350 28 48
Alaska 62.8 $16,613 5 49
New Mexico 61.5 $10,356 39 50
Louisiana 60.9 $12,210 24 51

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

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

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, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com 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.