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Rethink spending

Focus school funds on instruction by Morgan Burke Special to the Democrat-Gazette | April 11, 2019 at 2:44 a.m.

In Arkansas, K-12 student performance continues to lag behind the academic achievement of other states. Arkansas' ACT test scores rank only 41st nationally among all states and the District of Columbia.

Given the state's poor performance in providing quality education, policymakers in Arkansas increased spending on K-12 education. This extra spending will be more effective if the schools devote more of it to instructional spending.

In 2018, Arkansas spent $10,039 per pupil on K-12 education; 56 percent of the funds were spent on instructional expenses, while the remaining 44 percent were spent on non-instructional expenses. Non-instructional spending is broken up into three categories. Twenty percent of total spending covers items such as general administration, maintenance and operations, and student transportation. Eighteen percent pays for school support services, instructional support services, and school administration. Finally, the remaining 6 percent pays for food services, enterprise operations, and community operations. The portion of spending devoted to non-instructional spending varies across school districts. The Jacksonville North Pulaski School District spends 51 percent of its budget on non-instructional expenses, while the Pocahontas School District only spends 39 percent of its budget on non-instructional expenses.

Over the past eight years, statewide non-instructional expenses have remained at 44 percent, but the share of this money devoted to administration spending has continued to rise. Since 2011, general administration spending has increased 3 percent and school administration spending has increased 10 percent. In the last eight years, the Riverside School District and the Mineral Springs School District had the greatest rise in combined administration expenses.

There is evidence that instructional spending increases student performance. Spyros Konstantopoulos and Geoffrey Borman from Columbia University performed a meta-analysis of 12th-grade national educational performance. Their data showed a positive relationship between achievement and per-pupil expenditure.

A 2006 study by Sarah Archibald in Nevada found a statistically significant and positive relationship between instructional spending and academic achievement in reading for third- through sixth-graders. A similar result in a Wisconsin study by Will Flanders, a research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, demonstrated academic proficiency increased when additional instructional staff were hired.

Scholars at the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics examined the relationship between spending and student performance on the Arkansas Augmented Benchmark Exam. The findings conclude that a negative relationship exists between growing administration expenses and student performance.

If the ratio of administrative expenditures to instructional expenditures increases by 10 percent, it leads to a 2 percent decrease in students that score proficient or above in math. Greater administration expenditures have a negative effect on student reading scores as well.

Administration expenditures have a negative influence on student performance while instructional expenses have a positive effect. Therefore, districts should move money away from administrative expenses to instructional expenses. By transferring money, school systems can bring us closer to the average performance on a national level.


Morgan Burke is a research fellow for the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) at the University of Central Arkansas. The author's views are her own.

Editorial on 04/11/2019

Print Headline: Rethink spending


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