What is the return-on-investment on school spending?

The Center for American Progress, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code based in Washington, DC, has released a study that takes a look a the “return on educational investment” of American schools. The report is an effort to identify the “efficiency of the nation’s public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country.”


The report identifies and provided further documentation for these summary findings:

  • Many school districts could boost student achievement without increasing spending if they used their money more productively.
  • Low productivity costs the nation’s school system as much as $175 billion a year.
  • Without controls on how additional school dollars are spent, more education spending will not automatically improve student outcomes.
  • Efficiency varies widely within states.
  • More than a million students are enrolled in highly inefficient districts.
  • High-spending school systems are often inefficient.
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be enrolled in highly inefficient districts.

The Website contains an interactive map (Return on Education: A district by district evaluation of educational productivity) showing the report on all Pennsylvania schools. An intent of the report is to “spark a national dialogue about educational productivity, we’ve attempted to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of almost every major school district in the country. By productivity, we mean how much learning a district produces for every dollar spent, after controlling for factors such as cost of living and students in poverty.”

“We hope that our interactive website together with the findings and recommendations in the following pages—will prompt a new way of thinking about educational success, one that does far more to guarantee that all schools and districts have the necessary data, tools, and incentives to be efficient with their school dollars.” It is just one organization’s effort in starting the dialogue to make things better; that is something communities need to do.

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