During the most recent legislative session, one of the most hotly debated issues was a $1,000 pay raise for teachers and a $500 raise for support staff. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 which, included the pay raise, passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming support.
While much of the debate focused on the pay raise for teachers, missing from the conversation was an honest assessment of how much Louisiana is currently spending on education. And as important as what Louisiana taxpayers are spending is what they are getting in return.
Looking at the most recent data, Louisiana spent $12,200 per pupil on education in 2018. This is slightly less than the national average of $12,500 per pupil, but higher than all of Louisiana’s neighbors. Of course, this regionally higher spending on education might be worth it if Louisiana students were seeing the benefit from the extra funds. But looking at the educational outcomes, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
In both 4th grade reading and math scores, Louisiana ranks in the bottom five. A combination of spending and outcomes, measured in efficiency of education spending, Louisiana ranks a disappointing 46th.
Meanwhile, states like Florida and Texas, which spend considerably less per pupil than Louisiana does, rank 1st and 2nd respectively when it comes to efficiency in education spending.
All of these statistics are incredibly important when it comes to understanding how a state’s education system is working, or in Louisiana’s case not working, and where resources need to be allocated. For more details, read the Pelican Institute’s “Citizen’s Guide to Education” here.
Of course, like the state’s education ranking, Louisiana is also far behind in transparency regarding its education spending. Multiple times during the discussion of the education spending bill, questions were raised about how exactly the $8.2 billion of local, state, and federal money was being spent. Were these dollars going directly to the classroom? Being spent on buildings and other construction costs? Or going to fund retirement plans? Too much of the spending remains too opaque.
Not all school districts are sticking to the status quo, however. The Lafayette Parish School Board recently decided to partner with the Louisiana Checkbook Coalition to account for all of the parish’s school spending online. The checkbook is easily accessible and understandable to parents, students, and concerned citizens alike.
This checkbook is based on the “Ohio Checkbook,” which was able to make state spending transparent at an incredibly low cost.
Education spending is certain to debated again next legislative session, which presents the new lawmakers in Baton Rouge the opportunity break from the status quo to make transparency a key part of any education spending bill.
It’s important that Louisiana adequately fund its education system, but it’s equally important that our hard-working citizens know their money is being well-spent.