A new report on efficiency in public-school spending further dispels the myth that poverty prevents students from preparing for college and careers, and indicates taxpayers often don’t get much bang for their education bucks.
“Bang for the Buck 2012 ” reveals Kentucky education spending has nearly doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1990, yet many school districts spending the most have made little academic improvement.
“Education efficiency is not just a challenge for Kentucky,” said report author Richard Innes, a Bluegrass Institute education analyst. “As the entire economy gets more restrained, throwing huge amounts of dollars at public education just isn’t going to be feasible.”
Innes generated a Score-Spending Index (SSI) where the average school system performing at state average for efficiency gets an SSI of zero. Districts above average get positive scores, and those below the state average score negatively.
Winners and Losers
Owsley County School District had the worst SSI in Kentucky, at -40.57. Owsley spent a whopping $16,000 per pupil—$6,000 more than the state average—yet students only netted, on average, a 16.8 ACT Composite Score, two full points below the state average.
Beechwood Independent Schools, on the other hand, is nearly 53 percent more efficient than the average Kentucky district. It spends $1,166 less than the state average.
Research shows providing a quality education “is not just throwing more tax dollars, but in making better uses of available resources,” Innes said.
The institute recognized four districts—Graves, LaRue and Mason counties, and Eminence Independent—at a news conference for “doing notably better than average at getting kids ready for college and careers at an efficient cost,” Innes said.
Interviews with these districts’ superintendents revealed common priorities: relationships, technology, and retention.
Teachers in Mason County visit every child’s home to build rapport. Grave County has a Bring Your Own Device policy to encourage students to use technology at school. Mason County has an initiative to give all students iPads. Eminence Independent district has a bus equipped with wi-fi that dual-credit students can use while commuting.
Graves County has targeted dropouts, so far shepherding 500 at-risk students to graduation.
The Kentucky Department of Education plans to launch a website to let districts share ideas about how to become more efficient, said Kay Kennedy, a KDOE district support director.
“Bang for the Buck 2012,” Bluegrass Institute, September 2012: http://www.freedomkentucky.org/images/0/02/Bang_for_the_Buck_2012.pdf 
Image courtesy of the Bluegrass Institute. It depicts Buddy Berry, superintendent of the Eminence Independent School District near Louisville, Kentucky.