New Bluegrass Institute report: Bang for the Buck 2012

(EMINENCE, Ky.) – A new Bluegrass Institute study ranking efficiency in Kentucky’s public schools confirms that the commonwealth’s students – even those from poor homes – can receive a better education in spite of current economic challenges that impact the state budget and education funding.

Bang for the Buck 2012: How efficient are Kentucky’s schools?” updates a previous study by the institute, this time ranking the Bluegrass State’s school districts – instead of individual schools – on their efficiency ratio of ACT test scores to per-pupil spending.

The results found in this study make it clear: the answer to providing a quality education is not just more tax dollars, but in making better use of available resources,” said staff education analyst Richard G. Innes, the author of the report. “It adds more evidence that poverty is no excuse for failing to adequately prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century marketplace.

For one example, the report ranks the Harlan Independent District as the second-most score versus spending efficient school system in the state, despite a student poverty rate nearly equal to the state average.

Barbourville Independent, the fourth-most efficient district, gets above average test scores with well below average funding despite a school-lunch rate that is higher than the statewide average.

“Student poverty clearly does not stand in the way of efficiency in Harlan and Barbourville,” Innes said. “They show what can be done.”

The study also identifies four “Diamond in the Rough” school districts that are giving taxpayers above-average bang for their education bucks despite above-average poverty rates.

Those districts, Graves County, Eminence Independent (Henry Co.), LaRue County and Mason County, each posted efficiency scores for their 2011 data at least 10 percent better than the state average even though their student lunch eligibility rates equal or exceed the state average. They also surpassed the average ACT Composite score for all districts by at least half a point and posted better than average high school graduation rates in 2010, as well.

“Normally all four ‘Diamond in the Rough’ districts would be overlooked because they get neither the top academic scores nor the lowest funding,” Innes said. “But it’s their efficiency – the combination of good bang for each buck despite considerable poverty rates – that makes these districts stand out.”

Innes did find some common threads in these efficiently operating districts:

  • Using credible data to establish high expectations.
  • Emphasizing building and maintaining strong and respectful relationships with students and parents and between teachers and administrators.
  • Using digital learning to open up new opportunities to maximize the value of time and financial resources. For example, Eminence Independent provides students taking dual-credit college courses at Bellarmine University in Louisville a computer and a bus equipped with WiFi so that the 40-minute commute is not wasted.

“We hope that all Kentucky superintendents will learn from the excellent model of efficiency provided by these districts,” said Jim Waters, interim president of the Bluegrass Institute. “With the state’s current economic challenges, it behooves our school districts’ leaders to apply these best practices and become more efficient in all aspects of their operations.”



  1. The report is enlightening, and begs critical thinking to add to our ever-improving of education for our Kentucky students. Having worked in the largest district in Kentucky for over 20 years, I will always be saddened by the matter that a child’s environment is never individually considered by those charged with improving Kentucky’s educational system. The home environment has more powerful influence, per student efficiency, than all the funding the State can master. Until that factor is included in factoring per student/per district funding, the true variable will be lost. Jefferson County’s students living in poverty have cultural and diverse concerns which trump the funding and learning of our young students. The environment of the “districts in the rough” is so far removed from the environment of our large district, that the Bang for the Buck must consider a child’s education itself is used for discriminate, race, and prejudices taugh in the home environment. These social issues consume so much of curricular/class/non-class time, that an equal opportunity is compromised regardless of what the funding, assessment, free lunch programs may support. The state education department has erred as seriously as I have witnessed in my life by suggesting merit pay as a measure of teacher efficiency/accountablility. It has cost our district an unacceptable loss of qualified, highly-skilled teachers, and a hugh disservice to our students. The decades-long diversity state mandated programs have produced adults who cannot read, do not have sound, critical thinking abilities, and truley are gasping for help from the schools to help them with their child’s education at home, in their community, and at school. The problem is deep and all-encompassing of social programs. The bully factor education initiative is a statement of the need for social intervention in greater depth at the education level. That one factor states the Bang for the Buck statistics will be skewed. May God Bless you for your caring work!


  1. […] instance, a recent Bluegrass Institute report entitled “Bang for the Buck 2012: How efficient are Kentucky’s schools?” reveals that some Kentucky school districts spend far less than the state average of $10,814 per […]

  2. […] In fact, here’s an interesting thought. What if instead of buying video spy cams – if Louisville is bound and determined to keep on busing – how about putting WiFi on those buses, instead. Our friends at the Eminence Independent School District did this for the bus that takes their dual credit students on a 40-minute one way ride to their college courses a…. […]