Throwing money at problems never truly solves them, yet in Louisiana, that seems to be our solution for everything. One of the best examples of our elected leaders’ inability to grasp this concept lies in our state’s education system.
In Louisiana, we spend more per student than our neighboring states, and not just a little more. To put it in perspective, Louisiana spends approximately $12,153 per student, while Florida and Texas spend only $9,737 and $8,458 per pupil, respectively.
The data also shows that it’s not just our neighbors that are passing us by in terms of quality and performance. Despite spending more than 22 states around the nation, Louisiana ranks second-to-last in terms of educational quality. Recent test scores also revealed eighth grade reading numbers in Louisiana fell behind 41 other states while student performance in eighth grade math ranked below 48 states.
Louisianians with any knowledge of school systems in neighboring states can attest to the fact that even though we spend more, we get much less in return. So, how did we arrive here, and how do we do better?
First, many Louisianians aren’t aware that the education spending issue has been more than a decade in the making. Taxpayer money has increasingly poured into schools for years, yet those funds simply aren’t reaching the teachers or students inside the schools. Money is spent at the district level with little to no accountability, leaving teachers, students and parents in the dark as to where and why certain funding is allocated.
As with so many other issues impacting Louisiana’s finances, increasing transparency around local schools and district budgeting would go a long way in addressing this major problem. Louisianians have the right to know how schools perform and where their money is spent, and elected leaders have a duty, both fiscally and morally, to take action and inject more transparency in the process.
Adding transparency to Louisiana’s government spending has proven wildly popular in recent years. Take the overwhelming passage of the Louisiana Checkbook legislation just last year. The Checkbook is an online tool, accessible by all taxpayers, that tracks how every state tax dollar is collected and spent. This makes the government more accountable to taxpayers in how it spends their hard-earned money.
Districts around the state are proving what is possible. Consider the hugely popular Lafayette Checkbook, which made the Lafayette Parish School System the first local government body in the state to embrace this full-transparency approach. Imagine if other school systems were to follow Lafayette’s example. Parents and educators across the state would be able to track precisely how and where their districts were spending their tax dollars.
All of this takes us to the situation we’re in today over the proposed $1,000 flat teacher pay raise. Lawmakers across the spectrum have emphatically stated that they support raising teacher pay. However, little debate has occurred over the best approach to accomplish this task. Before a path forward is selected, there are still two important questions to consider: How exactly are we spending our current funding, and is there room for efficiencies to accommodate a more substantial teacher pay raise?
Louisiana’s teachers, particularly its good teachers, absolutely deserve higher, more competitive pay. In fact, they deserve far more than a flat $1,000 increase. Before compromising on an insufficient quick fix, we believe taxpayers deserve more transparency on education funding.
We can and should provide Louisiana students with the ability to recognize and reach their full potential, and at the same time, we must also pay teachers fairly and appropriately. Adding more transparency to Louisiana’s education funding and spending process is an important first step toward accomplishing both of these. Other states are doing it for much less money than we spend, while achieving far better results.
Daniel J. Erspamer is CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a New Orleans-based public policy group that champions the free market and studies Louisiana issues.