Thursday, April 27, 2006

Arkansas, Educating From The Bench

Opinion Journal has a must read article. It's in regard to the Arkansas State Supreme Court ordering the legislature to spend more on schools. Jay Greene reviews the problem which began in 2001 when the Court
declared the amount of money spent at that time--more than $7,000 per pupil--in violation of the state constitutional requirement to provide a "general, suitable and efficient" system of public education.

Greene goes on to criticize the professors who were hired to determine the funding needed to fulfill the Court's order. He says the method they used didn't really address whether the funding would result in an adequate education or that it was cost effective. He says that there should be evidence that increased spending would produce increased student achievement. Greene say that it doesn't.
The vast majority of social science studies find no relationship between spending and student achievement. My own analysis of schools in Arkansas finds that schools with more money perform no better than schools with less once student and community background characteristics are controlled. And the fact that per pupil spending has doubled over the past three decades while student achievement has remained stagnant ought to give us a clue that simply spending more won't fix schools. The shortcomings of schools are not generally attributable to the lack of resources, but to a lack of incentives to use resources effectively.

Greene goes on to criticize the Court for accepting the professor's recommendations and choosing to ignore the fact that more money doesn't produce better students. Greene doesn't stop at criticizing the Court, he goes after the legislators too.
For the 2005 school year, money was added to the teacher health plan and school construction funds, but the minimum amount that school districts would receive for operating expenses (excluding capital and categorical money) was left unchanged at $5,400. The plaintiff attorneys argued before the state high court that spending had to at least match inflation.
The court agreed and ordered the governor to call the Legislature in special session to remedy the situation. Legislators met in early April and in less than a week increased spending again. They were so eager to placate the court that they gave schools more for the current school year, even though it could hardly do any good with only a month remaining. They also increased spending without knowing how the last round of additional money was being used or whether it had any effect. Messrs. Picus and Odden were retained for another $450,000 to provide this information, but their report is not expected until August.

Arkansas' elected leaders have ceded control over the budget to the State Supreme Court. I have heard some remarks by Republican candidates about the Court's legislating from the bench. I don't know how big of an issue this will become in the coming elections. I do know that the Democrats are not worried about it because they're happy to spend our tax money. They see no harm in letting the Court legislate from the bench. I agree with Greene that until Arkansans tell their legislators to stop the over reaching of the Court, we can expect our taxes to remain high and for more money to be spend in the black hole that is education.

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