For this report, “twin districts” have very similar sizes and they have the following in common:
- The proportion of students who are from low-income families
- The proportion of students who have limited English proficiency or are English language learners
- The proportion of students who receive instruction through individualized educational programs
The goal of this paper was to study twin districts and use the data culled to provide recommendations for how districts can best leverage their school funding investments—in other words, achieve a bigger bang for their educational buck.
This paper accompanies a CAP report on a much larger set of U.S. school districts, titled “Return on Educational Investment: 2014. A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity.” For that report, we compared almost 7,000 districts across the United States in terms of their expenditures and levels of student achievement. This shorter analysis builds off of that work and relies on data from 2009-10 school year.
Based on our in-depth look at twin districts and our subsequent analysis of the data, we came away with the following findings:
When it comes to education, spending does not always equal results.
There are significant funding inequities between demographically similar districts.
Part of the issue is that districts with similar demographics perform very similarly, regardless of how much they spent per student. More importantly, though, is the fact that some districts spent at the same level but had higher achievement rates for those dollars.
Consider, for example, two suburban school districts in Michigan. Both served about 6,000 students and spent about $9,700 per student. In each district, about 30 percent of students were economically disadvantaged. But there were significant gaps in achievement between the two districts measured over the same period of time. In one district, around 80 percent of students were proficient in math. In the other district, around 90 percent of students were proficient in that subject.
Given the nature of our dataset, we were not able to identify how or why this occurred, but it does make clear that some districts can do more with the resources that they have.
- Move away from rigid funding systems
In order to increase academic productivity, federal and state policymakers should think more broadly about ways to give local leaders more freedom to try new things. States should relax requirements that lock up districts’ resources in ways that do not lead to improved student performance.
Support districts more equitably
They cite California's "weighted student funding" but, as I previously reported, a lawsuit has been filed against the state for not funding schools properly (especially around the issue of teacher assignment).
Ensure districts spend money on what matters
- Be held accountable for spending instructional dollars productively
- Be transparent and make valuable financial information available to the public