Good academic researchers have known for a long time that the best research is that which shows what you thought you already knew was correct. (And for the nerds among us, that concept is the origin of the 'null hypothesis).
Well, we have one such study released last week by the N. C. Justice Center. It is entitled A FAILED EXPERIMENT:
It is my sense that many people just accepted that, in 2005 when the "Education Lottery" passed the General Assembly by one vote that it would, if it produced the revenue they were projecting, solve the schools money problems. Just the opposite has turned out to be the case.
The reason? In a word: Supplanting.
Supplanting is a concept in government finance which essentially is the same thing my parents did to me when I got my first job. They cut off my allowance.
Yep, I had more money, but I did not have as much as if they had continued to give me as much as they had been giving me before I got a part-time job.
That is what the General Assembly has done with the lottery money. They gave it to the schools, pretty much as they said they would do, until last year when they changed to formulae a bit but what that does not account for is the fact that the power brokers did not continue to fund the schools from other sources as much as they had been doing before the lottery was enacted. They used lottery money to supplant what they had been giving the schools.
When it all washes out we suspect we will learn that the politicians also have done the same thing with the Federal Stimulus money that went to the schools. Because the budget makers knew that more Federal dollars were available they made less state and local dollars available than would otherwise be the case.
The other side of that coin is that in most cases the amount of money the schools are spending per pupil is more than the previous year, no matter what year you choose.
The Justice Center has also published a report on this phenomenon and you can read it by clicking here. Now what this study does not reflect is another fact that has become a trend in North Carolina. It is that as good economic times produce more spending on education, the percentage going to non-classroom regular positions tends to increase faster than the amount being spent in the classroom (teacher and assistants). Then when the cash cow runs dry it is the teaching and teacher assistant position that take the heavier cuts.
And one final observation. The Justice Center's report does not do a very good job of showing that the last session of the General Assembly used lottery resources to decrease class sizes in the lower grades without having to raise taxes. What that does not show is that there is very little research that shows that reducing class size by a couple of students results in significantly improved student performance.
But then, there is very little research that shows that spending more money in general improves student performance either. And there is absolutely no evidence that there is a proportionate relationship between increased spending and increased student performance.
So does spending matter? Of course it does. If it did not then we wouldn't debate it as much as we do.