Editorial

School spending, results

Sunday, January 4, 2004

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regularly compiles data on how many students are in each of the state's school districts, how much each district spends during a school year and how much each district spends on average for each student.

DESE also keeps track of student performance as measured by standardized tests.

From those statistics, it is clear that the amount spent on public education is not the determining factor in how students perform.

The state average for per-pupil expenditures in Missouri, based on figures compiled last fall, is $7,345. In our area, per-pupil spending is below the state average. Cape Girardeau spends $7,204 for each of its 3,998 students, Oak Ridge spends $6,044 for 383 students, Scott City spends $5,567 for 1,025 students and Jackson spends $4274 for 4,623 students.

DESE figures show that districts that spend the most don't necessarily have the best test results. And districts that spend the least don't have the worst results.

The Wellston School District in St. Louis is in an area that qualifies for extra state funding because of poverty levels and low assessed valuation. The Wellston district spends $10,470 per student -- among the highest spending statewide. But the state calls student performance on standardized tests "extremely poor" and has stripped the district of its accreditation.

Another district that is among the highest in per-pupil expenditures -- $13,478 -- is the Clayton School District, which is considered an affluent district that raises most of its school funding from local taxes. Its students perform well on the state's standardized performance tests.

Students in the Festus School District also do well on the tests, but the district's per-pupil spending -- $4,588 -- is among the lowest in the state.

The correlation between per-pupil spending and test scores are being watched closely as 240 districts prepare to file a lawsuit next week challenging the state's school funding formula. Many of the districts who have joined the lawsuit say the state needs to provide more funding to improve overall scores on the standardized tests.

But DESE officials and state legislators who see that spending and test scores don't have all that much in common will have to wonder if simply increasing school funding is prudent. It might be better to look more closely at other factors that affect education, including training and job development for low-income parents who need to become more involved in their schools.

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