What if we increased education spending?

Patrick Gibbons

Increasing funds for public education won't result in drastic increases in student achievement. In fact, there is no significant relationship between spending and student achievement. Nevertheless, the advocates of education spending pray that Nevada will summon the "courage" to raise taxes.

So despite the fact that Nevada has tripled per-pupil spending since 1960, these big spenders want more.  How much more?  Would $10,000 more per pupil work?  That is "only" $4.1 billion more to spend, and we'd "only" need to double our taxes rates to achieve this.

How much would student achievement increase if they got their wish?

Let's assume for the moment that the existing relationship between spending and achievement is significant (it is not).

Each point on this graph represents a state's per-pupil spending level and fourth-grade reading score. The red line represents the middle point, with half the dots above and half below. If we assume (as the big spenders do) that spending more increases student achievement, then that red line predicts the rise in student scores for each $1 spent.

As it turns out, for every increase of $2,000 in per-pupil spending, we could reasonably expect to see a negligible one-point gain in the reading scores.

The orange dot on the graph represents what Nevada's fourth-grade reading score would be if Nevada's per-pupil spending were increased to the point where we ranked 25th in the nation. We would improve by one point.

The green dot shows what Nevada's fourth-grade reading score would be if we were ranked first in the nation in per-pupil spending.  Nevada would be spending over $20,000 per pupil and would only see a score of 216 on the fourth-grade reading exam.

Florida, by contrast, spends $10,688 per pupil (only $268 more than Nevada currently spends) and scores 224 (13 points higher than our average student). Increasing spending for education has not been a successful solution for the last 50 years, and it won't be a solution to our education problems in the next 50 years, either.

Nevada needs education reform – if we only had the courage