Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Despite 'austerity cuts' Georgia's k-12 students make big gains

With all the talk about the billions of dollars in "austerity cuts" to Georgia's public schools, you could be forgiven for thinking our students' academic performance must have suffered. But you would be wrong.

In fact, Georgia's performance has been improving steadily, even for students from low-income families.

Those gains are documented well in a new report by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation . The free-market think tank examined scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the "nation's report card" and the gold standard for state-to-state comparisons, in 2013 (the latest data available) and in 2003 (the earliest year for which information is available for all states). As it happens, the 2003 school year was also the last time the state's budget was totally set by Democrats, before all those austerity cuts under Republicans. Here's a visual representation of the results from GPPF :

In 2003, by each measure Georgia's students scored in the bottom half of states and, not surprisingly, outscored very few states. By 2013, the only measure by which they remained in the bottom half were math scores for low-income children -- but even on those tests, Georgia's students made strides. And on the reading tests, Georgia's low-income children made very big gains.

But back to the issue of money. Here's what GPPF found when it looked for states that, like Georgia, have poverty rates above the national average but which also scored better than Georgia on these tests:

"This gives us six states: Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Utah.

"The spending per pupil (adjusted for cost of living differences) for these states are:

Georgia     $9,890

Delaware     $13,522

Florida     $8,535

North Carolina     $9,160

Oregon     $9,659

Texas     $8,600

Utah     $6,772

"Other than Delaware, these states have three things in common: 1) They have similar poverty rates to Georgia (all are above the national average), 2) they are spending less money per student than Georgia (adjusted for cost of living) and 3) they have significantly outperformed Georgia students in at least one area.

"For comparison, Georgia has more than 1.6 million students, so every dollar change in per student spending is equivalent to more than $1.6 million."

The comparisons to Florida, North Carolina and Texas are particularly telling. The closest of those three to our spending is North Carolina, and the difference between our spending -- using that $1.6 million per $1 in per-pupil spending -- comes out to more than $1.1 billion. That's $1.1 billion more that we're spending compared to them, to lesser effect.

There's a lot of data to play around with on GPPF's site , so feel free to take a look and report back your findings. But the data seem to point to a couple of conclusions: We're doing better than you might have thought when we compare like students to like students, and more money doesn't seem to be the answer.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.