Spending ‘Brewster’s Millions’ On Missouri Public Schools
Imagine your great uncle passes away and leaves you a huge sum of money, but there is a catch. To get the money, you have to spend $30 million on Missouri’s public education system and make a demonstrable impact on student achievement. Contrary to the plot of the 1985 comedy “Brewster’s Millions,” your great uncle demands results. Would you follow Missouri Budget Project’s advice and put the $30 million into the state’s foundation formula for public schools to make up for the funding gap?
If so, you could probably kiss your riches goodbye. You might be better off following Monty Brewster’s lead and organizing a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals. You could invite disadvantaged students to watch the game on a field trip. After all, one study has shown that “poor” readers with more knowledge about baseball outperformed “good” readers with relatively little knowledge about baseball.
All levity aside, there is little reason to believe that pumping more money into the funding formula will lead to improved results.
Let’s imagine that you do put the money in the formula to fill the “underfunding” gap. In the table below, I display how much Missouri schools would get from your great uncle’s generosity. In this graph, schools were sorted into deciles based on the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the state’s math exam (districts were weighted for size). As you can see, you would be giving almost as much money to the highest-performing schools as you would to the lowest-performing schools.
If you would not invest your own money in this manner, why would you invest taxpayer money this way?
I have never denied that Missouri is underfunding the foundation formula; the state is. This does not mean that the formula is infallible. The formula is flawed and is in need of change. It is time to stop asking how much money we can spend on schools and start asking how we can spend our money more effectively, so that we can truly improve the lives of students.
Performance Decile (1=Low, 10=High)
Percent of Funds Received
Brewster’s Wasted Millions