A current fad in social media is to warn Kentuckians about all the supposedly horrible things that are happening in other states that have a lot more school choice options. Today, one big “warning” is coming from Arizona.
I took a look at how white student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 8 Math assessments looked between 1992 and 2015 in comparison to changes in per pupil expenditures between those years. The graphic below shows those states that had a higher increase in white students’ NAEP Grade 8 Math scale scores and lower increases in per pupil expenditures (which is why Kentucky plots at the bottom right of the graph). On this graph, you want to be in the upper left corner.
When you look at that corner, see which state shows up. Why, it’s Arizona, which had a 23-point rise in its white public school students’ NAEP Grade 8 math scores between 1992 and 2015 while only increasing spending a little over $4,000 per student in unadjusted dollars. Compare to Kentucky, with a lower NAEP score increase of just 16 points and an expenditure rise just short of $5,940 per pupil.
In 1991-92 Arizona spent $4,381 per pupil and that rose to $8,426 by 2015, a rise of just $4,045. In the same interval, Arizona’s NAEP Grade 8 Math scale scores for white students in public schools (includes charter schools) rose from 274 to 297.
In contrast, Kentucky’s per pupil expenditures rose from $4,719 in 1991-92 to $10,659 for 2015, a far more substantial increase in spending of $5,940. NAEP Grade 8 Math scores for Kentucky’s whites only rose from 264 to 281, however.
So, as of 2015 (latest funding data available at present in the Digest of Education Statistics series), Kentucky spends over $2,200 more per student than Arizona but lags notably for white student Grade 8 NAEP Math scores (Note – A 16-point difference on NAEP is a considerable difference).
It seems to me, at least if we are talking about efficient education systems, that Kentucky might want to be more like school-choice-rich Arizona, not less. Arizona certainly gets more bang for its bucks in math than we do in the Bluegrass State.
Data sources: The 1991-92 per pupil expenditures data used to compute the changes came from The Digest of Education Statistics 1996, Table 165 while the 2015 expenditures for each state came from The Digest of Education Statistics 2017, Table 236.70. All expenditures figures are in unadjusted dollars.
The NAEP Grade 8 Math scores for 1992 and 2015 used to compute the score changes came from the NAEP Data Explorer and are for public school students only.
Note: when doing any state to state comparisons with the NAEP, it is important to consider the significant student demographic differences that are now present between different states. This is why the scores for only white students are examined in this blog. For a lot more on analyzing NAEP in valid ways, check out our old, but still very valid, article about “Pitfalls in Interpreting NAEP Scores.”