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Report: Kentucky education spending does not correlate with better test scores

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(The Center Square) – June will mark the 35th anniversary of the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in Rose v. Council for Better Education that said the state failed to “provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.”Despite an increase in school funding since 1989, adjusted for inflation, Kentucky testing shows student productivity levels today to be at half of what they were in the 1990s, according to a new report from the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank.

“Trends in ‘Bang for the Buck’ in Kentucky’s K-12: The Productivity of Funding in Developing Basic Skills and Its Change Over Time,” indicates a decline in the efficiency of the state’s education system since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was enacted in 1990 as a response to the Rose ruling.

“These declines are due almost entirely to the large funding increases that have occurred relative to the small changes in test scores,” writes author John Garen. “This suggests a large deterioration in the effectiveness of K-12 funding.”

Garen serves as the BB&T professor emeritus of economics at the University of Kentucky and is a member of the Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars.

The study calculated the ratio between fourth and eighth grade reading and math test scores per $1,000 in pupil spending and determined a nearly continuous decline in student scores, despite increased funding. The only exception to this is the period shortly after the Great Recession, from 2009-2013.

“This data-driven analysis adds to the growing mountain of evidence that while Kentucky is spending more than ever of its budget pie on public education, it’s drifting farther than ever from its constitutional mandate of providing an efficiently effective system that serves students and taxpayers well,” Bluegrass President Jim Waters said. “It also confirms what reformers have said for decades: more money does not automatically result in a better education system.”

Among other findings, the report also determined student productivity in 2022 ranged from 47-64% of the 1990s level, depending upon which form of the National Assessment of Educational Progress was used.

“More alternatives, greater accountability and expanding education freedom are needed in order for Kentucky to meet its constitutional duty to its students and taxpayers,” Waters said.

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