Opponents of the charter-school amendment on next month’s ballot offer a simple alternative idea: Spend more money.
That’s about all the educational establishment can conjure as a means of improving Georgia’s below-average results. State schools superintendent John Barge got to the point quickly when he came out against the amendment back in August.
Barge estimated the state would spend an extra $430 million on new charter schools over a five-year period. He said the state shouldn’t spend that money until existing schools are fully staffed with fully paid teachers for full school years – the lack of which he attributed to state budget cuts averaging almost $1.2 billion in recent years.
So, there you have it, fiscal conservatives wary of the amendment. Barge and his fellow travelers don’t want to spend another $430 million over the next five years. They want to spend an additional $6 billion during those years – about 14 times as much.
Whereas charter schools would at least offer a chance to give students and parents different and better options, that $6 billion would go into the same model we’ve had for years. As it happens, we already know what we get when we pour more and more money into that system: Student learning doesn’t grow nearly as quickly as the funding does.
That’s because, complaints about spending notwithstanding, educational spending in Georgia has gone up, up, up over the longer term. But test scores have barely budged by comparison.
Consider a common national benchmark for standardized testing: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Because the annual data available for budget numbers and state NAEP scores don’t always overlap, I’m making the most long-term comparison I can: 2002 to 2011.
Between 2002 and 2011, state funding per pupil rose by 10 percent.
Reading scores for Georgia fourth-graders and eighth-graders during those years rose by just 2.8 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
Math scores for Georgia fourth-graders rose by 3.5 percent, eighth-graders by 3 percent. (The math scores actually come from 2003, but per-pupil funding then was within $2 of its level in 2002, so it’s a very similar comparison.)
As I reported in a recent column, state-chartered schools – the ones that stand to grow if the amendment passes — already outperform their local, traditional counterparts by about 12 percent.
Perhaps the extra money didn’t yield commensurate results because it didn’t always go into classrooms, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
In a report to be released this week, the foundation found the number of teachers in Georgia grew about twice as fast as the number of students over the past two decades. But so did the number of non-instructional staff (e.g., administrators and secretaries).
Had the growth in non-instructional staff merely kept pace with that of students, Georgia would have employed about 23,000 fewer people in 2008, the most recent year the foundation studied. Using a conservative estimate of $40,000 per year for each of them, these extra workers cost Georgia about $925 million that year.
And how much do Barge & Co. think Georgia schools need each year? Right: $1.2 billion. That $925 million alone would cover three-quarters of the tab.
But if our educational dollars aren’t well-spent now, why would we give them more? And why wouldn’t we embrace an amendment that offers a better way?
– By Kyle Wingfield