Does An Underfunded Formula Really Hurt Schools?
Does “underfunding” have a detrimental impact on Missouri school districts? The people at the Missouri Budget Project think so. According to their recent study examining Missouri school district funding, “The vast majority of school districts throughout Missouri have been significantly hurt by Missouri’s inability to fully fund the state’s education funding formula, which is the key to our kids receiving the world-class education they need to compete in today’s global economy.” However, Show-Me Institute Director of Education Policy James Shuls and I find that there is no correlation between how much a school district is “underfunded” and its actual performance.
I agree with Shuls when he says that, on principle, the foundation formula (which is the state’s method of determining how much of its annual appropriation to district aid goes to each school district) should be fully funded. The people at the Missouri Budget Project would have you believe that the more underfunded the school, the worse its performance will be. Shuls and I were skeptical that this was actually the case so we tested the Missouri Budget Project’s claim.
In our analysis, we used the Missouri Budget Project’s numbers for the amount each district was underfunded per student. In the past, I have raised issues with the Missouri’s Budget Project’s methodology (or lack thereof) in their work. However, for the sake of argument, Shuls and I decided to accept their results at face value. To measure a district’s performance, we used each district’s English and math MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) test scores and the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced. We then ran the numbers through STATA to determine if any correlation existed between a school’s academic performance and their level of “underfundedness.” We found none (for more on our results, please see the comments section).
The underfunding of Missouri’s school districts “hurts” school districts if you define hurt as not getting money. If, however, you define hurt as having a negative impact on performance, these results indicate that is not the case. Even if these schools were fully funded, it would not guarantee that their performance would improve. A growing body of evidence suggests that increasing funding for schools will not necessarily lead to an improvement in educational outcomes. We believe in adequately funding our schools, but the state should first make sure that taxpayer money is spent wisely before asking taxpayers for even more.