School finance expert: Research shows money matters in education

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed himself the students’ lobbyist for New York state. A policy paper released Friday suggests that if Cuomo wants to improve students outcomes, he’s going to have to increase funding to education.

The Albert Shanker Institute released “Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education?” In the paper, school finance expert and Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker assessed the body of empirical research on spending in education.

His conclusion: Political rhetoric justifying large education funding cuts, saying cuts won’t harm education quality, have little basis in research.

To show the heightening echo chamber on this rhetoric, Baker quotes Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Baker says: “The political message has gone several steps beyond questioning whether or not a systematic relationship exists between funding and school quality – a classic research framing of the issue – to bold assertions that we now know, with certainty, that money doesn’t matter and that the path to school improvement can be accomplished despite – or even because of – reductions in spending.”

But, in reviewing dozens of studies, Baker found:

  • On balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
  • Numerous studies show teachers’ wages affect the quality of those who choose the profession and whether they stay
  • Ample research indicates that children in smaller classes (which costs more money) achieve better outcomes
  • Several studies provide compelling evidence of the potential positive effects of school finance reform (redistributing money among wealthy and poor districts)

“It is certainly reasonable to acknowledge that money, by itself, is not a comprehensive solution for improving school quality. Clearly, money can be spent poorly and have limited influence on school quality. Or, money can be spent well and have substantive positive influence. But money that’s not there can’t do either. The available evidence leaves little doubt: Sufficient financial resources are a necessary underlying condition for providing quality education.”

Read the full study here.

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