Does Spending More on Education Work? State Rankings of Education Spending.

Many States Spend More and Get Less from their Educational Dollars.

Editors Note: 
For the latest 2009 State SAT Rankings go to  State SAT Scores List 2009   
For the latest Best States for Jobs see Best States for Job Openings September 2009  and Best States to Find a Job
Also see the States Ranked by Unemployment Increases: Will Jobs improve in 2010?

EPE Research this past week published a state ranking of education spending per student. 

While the quality of education may be influenced by the amount of money spent, spending more money does not insure that students actually learn more.  We found it interesting to note how money spent and SAT scores were associated. 

The highest spending state, Vermont, is rated 30th in SAT scores nationwide.  The lowest spending state, Utah, gets higher SAT scores from their students and is ranked 20th above Vermont.  Far less money, higher score.  The Best State (highest) SAT score comes from Iowa yet their spending of $9,977 per student is right in the middle at 25th and right at the national average of spending.  The Worst State Sat score comes from Maine yet it spends the 5th most money in the nation. 

With all the spending coming out of Congress, we might want to ask for more accountability on results.  The various state legislatures, that are making spending decisions, clearly can not show that more money leads to better results.  Check out our previous post on Best and Worst State SAT Scores


The data is regionally adjusted so it takes into consideration relative cost.  While SAT scores are only one performance measurement it is an important and consistent test metric across the entire nation.
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  • 10/29/2009 11:09 PM Steve wrote:
    My question is on the SAT. Some states in the West have very small percentages of students taking the SAT. Most students take the ACT. How can you generalize the state performance when such a small percentage of college bound students take the measure you use? seems like a very poor methodology to me.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/4/2011 6:03 PM Warren Pugh wrote:
      This is excellent. Come out of hiding. No need to politicize. Don't fight the right, but run with it.
      Reply to this
  • 10/30/2009 6:45 AM Sharon Johnson wrote:
    Articles such as this are misleading. They should include the percentage of students in each state that actually take the SAT. In some states the percentage is quite high...while in others it is very low. If only the top 5-10% of students take the SAT in a given state, it is bound to look better than one where 65% take the test.
    Reply to this
    1. 10/30/2009 9:04 AM Ed Kopko wrote:

      Editors Note:

      While I agree some states encourage the taking of the ACT over the SAT,  the table is still useful.  Money clearly does not deliver more results in education.

      I provide participation rates for 2009 SAT Scores by State at  State SAT Scores 2009  and caution readers in my post to carefully look at the data.  Yet there are huge gaps in spend versus results in certain states.

      New Jersey for example ranks 3 in spend, at $13,238 and ranks 36th in the 2009 State SAT score rankings.  It has a 76% participation rate.

      North Carolina ranks 44 at $7,835 in spending, ranks slightly lower at 39th in SAT Scores  and has 63% participation.  New Jersey spends a whopping 70% more and gets similar results to North Carolina.   It sure should raise some questions.

      The other states I mention in the post have the following 2009 SAT participation rates: Vermont  64%, Iowa  3%, Maine  90% and Utah  6%.  Utah which rates lowest  in spend still appears to be great value for the money.  Its ACT scores are above average at 21.8 and its ACT participation rate is 68%.

      The question "Does Spending More on Education Work?" is still a valid one to debate.


      Reply to this
      1. 2/15/2011 11:16 AM Norm wrote:
        SAT scores depend on who is taking them. In some states it is the top 3% while in others it can be nearly all students. Of course they don't vary according to the money spent on education.
        Reply to this
      2. 9/18/2011 9:26 AM Ivan wrote:
        While using the SATs to compare the educational systems of different states may raise some questions about individual states, it does not do a valid job in comparing them. It is fundamental to start with a level playing field when attempting to compare different entities, which obviously is not the case with the SATs.
        Reply to this
      3. 10/31/2011 11:34 AM Julee wrote:
        Just want to try and help you see the fallacy of your logic ... New Jersey may rank 36th in the 2009 SAT score rankings, but it is tied for 3rd in the 2009 ACT score rankings. The point everyone is trying to make is valid - SAT scores alone are not enough to make sweeping generalizations about a state's academic performance. Your article makes a potentially damaging claim and is not accurately researched.
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  • 12/4/2009 8:31 PM Brad wrote:
    As a Mainer I would like to stick up for our low SAT scores and explain why they are low. Maine is the only state that mandates all Juniors take the SAT, which means low achieving students and special education students take the test. In most states only students that are looking to go on to college will take the SAT. This brings downs Maine’s average and makes it look worse than we really are when we are actually trying to help our students by paying for a test some may not be able to afford.
    Reply to this
  • 1/23/2010 8:07 PM John wrote:
    The flaw in this logic is that in most cases the sat is an elected exam. You are most like looking at the top X % of the students, where X is the number of students who took the exam.

    In the examples you gave, you are saying that the average student in the top 6% of Utah is a better test taker than the student in the top 64% of Vermont.

    Better information would come from a nation test that everyone takes, or looking at graduation rates, college acceptance rates, and college graduation rates.
    Reply to this
  • 2/14/2010 9:09 AM Chris wrote:
    No, spending more has no direct linear correlation to higher quality in education. But voting to spend more money on education does correlate with increasing a legislators reelection chances.
    Reply to this
  • 3/1/2010 11:18 PM StatsGuy wrote:
    Another thing to point out is that you cannot cherry pick individual states stats to support your thesis. Rather, you need to looks at all states and determine if there is an overall correlation between spending and test scores. Then you have to see if that relationship effect is significant. Lastly, I agree that SAT scores are not a good way to measure education outcomes, especially when different states have different rules skewing the data pool. Another confounding factor is that some students usually take a Kaplan SAT prep course which further skews the results.

    Nice try. I'd also like to know if more spending on education yields better results overall, but then again, not all spending is the same. Some schools may use their funding to purchase materials, or build classrooms, or pay for better teachers (one whould hope), or just squander it on shiny things. My guess is that spending does help, but you can't just throw money at the problem and at some point the returns begin to diminish.
    Reply to this
  • 3/13/2010 1:47 PM Chris wrote:
    You have data to support your claims at all. In fact it appears (I didn't test significance) that more money lowers SAT scores but improves ACT scores.
    Also many of the states that spend more money are in high cost of living states, where home prices and labor cost more and hence education should cost more.

    Furthermore, a better analysis of spending vs test scores would be more meaningful if you understood what and why scores are what they are. As mentioned above, Maine makes all juniors take the SAT, the SAT is a test for graduating seniors, juniors will score lower, bringing down the state's overall score.

    In fact based on this data, you really cannot tell a damn thing about spending and test scores within the USA. What you can do, however, is look at the extereme (outliers) points, lowest spending, highest scores, lowest scores and then look at those systems versus the average spending/scoring states and attempt to figure out what system differences explain the test score differences. For example Utah spends low amounts on education, but still has average scores, why?

    I am a huge proponent of education. I however do not believe throwing money at it makes it better. But large class sizes, fewer programs and crumbling buildings doesn't help us learn and compete in the long run. We live in a global world and we have to compete as such. And being on the tail end of 36 industrial countries in education is pathetic.
    Reply to this
  • 3/19/2010 7:38 AM GL wrote:
    Media and others often rank states, districts and schools on the basis of SAT scores despite repeated warnings that such rankings are invalid. The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores. If ranked, schools and states that encourage students to apply to college may be penalized because scores tend to decline with a rise in percentage of test-takers. In reference to NJ: top 5 in 4th and 8th grade exams for Reading, Math, Writing. Number 1 in Advance Placement Exams, number 1 in HS graduation. You CANNOT just look at SAT scores.
    Reply to this
  • 3/19/2010 9:19 AM GL wrote:
    One last note: Since the editors wanted to compare New Jersey to North Carolina, let's consider another factor: N.C. graduation rate is 65%, N.J. is 86%. (Feel free to compare educational requirements for graduation)
    Reply to this
  • 6/23/2010 2:34 AM Dissertation Help wrote:
    I was just thinking about Does Spending More on Education Work? State Rankings of Education Spending. and you've really helped out. Thanks!
    Reply to this
  • 8/9/2010 7:56 AM Abacus wrote:
    I really thankful to you for this great read!! You did a very great job, keep it up.
    Reply to this
  • 9/24/2010 9:18 PM harmles2 wrote:
    Very useful info, thanks for compiling it. I'm going to disagree with the union teachers on here who seem to be downplaying the numbers. I'd really like to do away with the dept of Education and give all control back to parents and teachers at the local level.
    Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 11:20 AM Adrienne wrote:
    I was just wondering, does the per capita spending include money spent by local governments or is it strictly state spending? For example, I was just looking at the 2010 estimates for spending for California and it says that state government will be spending 29.3 billion dollars on education, but local governments will spend an additional 90.5 billion.
    Reply to this
  • 2/13/2011 6:29 PM Bill Betzen wrote:
    Very few conclusions, if any, can be reached by comparing only these two variables. I would love to see a spreadsheet with a row of data for each state followed by multiple columns of data for each state covering the most recent 5 years, to include for each year: education spending per student, GDP (gross domestic product) per resident, average number of diplomas given, the full 9th grade enrollment statewide four years earlier for each of these graduation classes, percentage of 9th grade enrollment represented in the number of graduates for each of these graduation classes, average ACP and SAT scores along with number of such scores used in the tabulations for each test for each of these classes, average of state and local taxes paid by citizens with incomes under $25,000 compared with average state and local taxes paid for citizens with incomes $100,000 to $150,000, and incomes over $150,000.

    While a one year snapshot of such data helps, it does not show patterns of changes over time. That is critical data to see what is happening in our states.

    Such an accurate spreadsheet, with data up to 2010, or even a year or so older, would be priceless. Where is it?

    If you wonder why I am interested just google "Texas Education Progress" to see the work being done in one state.
    Reply to this
  • 2/22/2011 12:51 PM jm wrote:
    SAT rankings are a notoriously inconsistent measure of student learning across the nation. Better to use the NAEP, which is actually geared toward national curriculum guidelines (i.e., what schools should be teaching, not what students need to know to get into college). Educational statisticians should know better.
    Reply to this
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