Texas public schools are barely squeaking by, The New York Times reported this morning in a heart-rending story about state budget cuts. Things have gotten so dire that the Times led its story with the horrifying tale of a youth in Hutto, northeast of Austin, who must now walk a mile to classes because the school district there can no longer afford to bus students who live less than two miles from school.
Hey, hey, hey! You older-than-40 readers out there, is that any kind of language to use when talking about a Texas youth? There's nothing in the Times' story to suggest that the young man in question is, in fact, a "pampered, lazy, God damn whiny lard ass," as you just muttered under your breath. Uh-huh, right ... "in the snow," "uphill both ways," "surrounded by wolves." Sure you did.
What caught our eye in the story -- beyond the decadent state of today's youth -- was this little factoid: Texas spends an average of $8,908 annually per public school student, $538 less than last year. The national average is $11,463. New York spends $15,592 and California $9,710. The implication is that cheap-ass Texas is raising up a generation of poorly educated ignoramuses with thick calf muscles and empty heads. But is that true? What is the correlation between dollars spent and educational outcome? I spent a busy morning making calls and reading dense educational reports trying to find an answer. Here it is in all its glory:
Who the fuck knows?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal agency that compiles statistics on student achievement, doesn't draw correlations between state spending and test scores, a spokesperson told us. And the NAEP, which offers a ton of data online, also advises anyone who looks at its numbers to take care drawing broad comparisons among states, largely because different student populations, different school curricula and different everything else influence results. (Different average wages, real estate prices, utility costs etc. equally skew the spending numbers.)
Still, just as a sample of NAEP's data, we'll point out that in 2011, Texas eighth-graders outscored both New Yorkers and Californians in math. Whether that makes you Texas proud or doubt the scores depends on how long it's been since you stood in line somewhere watching a teenager try to make change.
Other groups, from Education Week and the Pew Center to the American Education Legislative Exchange Council, have taken careful looks at measurements of spending vs. outcome -- call it the dollars to dummies ratio. They too, are careful not to draw much in the way of hard conclusions leaving to policymakers to grasp about in the dark as they decide how much money for schools is enough.
You know, the SOP.
In the slurry of stats, contextless factoids and policy mongering, only one clear truth rings out like a bell: Them lazy-ass kids need to get out and take an effin' walk. Do they think we're made of money?