Comparing Education Funding and Student Achievement among States

Everyone likes rankings, and one of the most frequent questions we receive is about where Georgia ranks in terms of K-12 spending and achievement.

Georgia’s spending per student is higher than all but one of its neighboring states, according to the most recent data.

In terms of student achievement, adjusting for demographic factors that schools can’t control, Georgia ranks 19th highest in the nation. (An analysis of how Georgia compares based on unadjusted NAEP scores is available here.)

Clearly, spending doesn’t equal performance, at least not in 2013. The states in Table 1 are listed in order of spending, but their academic achievement varies dramatically. Georgia ranks much higher than most would guess at 19, but Florida (#4) and North Carolina (#7) make the top 10 even as they spend much less. (Georgia, for example, spent $1,202 more per student than Florida. Multiply this by the 1.6 million Georgia students in 2013 and the result is Georgia is spending $1.9 billion more than Florida while getting worse results.)

Table 1. Funding and Achievement (2013)

Funding Per Student   Student Achievement Rank
South Carolina $10,284 38
Georgia $9,297 19
Alabama $8,517 48
Florida $8,077 4
Tennessee $7,778 39
North Carolina $7,594 7

Table Notes:
Funding data is from a Georgia State University study (item #25).
Achievement rankings are from an Urban Institute study based on 2013 NAEP scores adjusted for demographics.
An analysis of Georgia’s ranking based on unadjusted NAEP scores as well as spending data for all states can be found here.
Over the last three fiscal years since this data was collected, K-12 education funding in Georgia has increased by more than $1.5 billion, or nearly $900 million over and above adjustments for enrollment growth and changes in teacher training and experience.

It is dangerous to look at just one year of data, so Table 2 examines each state’s trend over the decade from 2003 to 2013.

Again, even over time, there appears to be no correlation between increased funding and improved student achievement. Georgia, for example, increased funding over the decade by less than all but one state, yet during this same period its student achievement improved more than 41 states.

Table 2. Funding and Achievement Trend (2003-2013)

Change in Funding Rank   Change in Student Achievement Rank
Alabama 26 38
South Carolina 30 47
Tennessee 34 5
Florida 38 11
North Carolina 43 37
Georgia 49 9

Table Notes:
Funding change from 2003 to 2013 calculated from U.S. Census Bureau data.
Achievement rankings are from an Urban Institute study based on 2003 and 2013 NAEP scores adjusted for demographics.
The time period from 2003-2013 roughly corresponds to the so-called “austerity cuts” first implemented in Georgia in 2002.