As several news outlets are reporting today, the South Dakota Supreme Court has unanimously shot down the asinine lawsuit which has seen one area of government suing another area of government to force that second area of government to take more money from the citizens of South Dakota.
About five years ago, a group of schools got together and filed a lawsuit against the legislature because they claimed the legislature was violating the South Dakota Constitution for the nebulous offense of failing to provide all children with “an adequate and quality education.”
Why did they feel the legislature was violating the state constitution? While no amount of money is mentioned in the state constitution, the recipients of education funding believe the approximately $8,000 per student spending on education in South Dakota just isn’t enough.
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed what I’ve been saying for the past five or six years: this lawsuit was unjustified.
In the opinion issued yesterday, the court concluded:
We are unable to conclude that the education funding system (as it existed at the time of trial) fails to correlate to actual costs or with adequate student achievement to the point of declaring the system unconstitutional.
As I pointed out in a column in the Rapid City Journal four years ago, only about half of the typical education staff is composed of teachers. The rest are overhead (administration, secretarial, and Lord knows what all non-teaching related activities). There is tremendous waste in the education system.
I also pointed out in that column and in many other articles I have written on this subject that there is no correlation between spending and academic results. While South Dakota ranks in the 40s (it varies from year to year) among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending, the state ranks in the upper tier for academic results. Meanwhile, D.C. is usually #1 or #2 in the highest spending, and usually 51st in academic results. If more money = better results, D.C. should be turning out the best students in the country…but it is turning out the worst.
The South Dakota Supreme Court found the same kinds of disparities in spending versus results right here in South Dakota:
Of the sixteen focus school districts the parties analyzed, Hamlin School District had the lowest per student expenditure in general funds in FY 2007 of $5,353. Yet, 87.5% of Hamlin’s students tested proficient or advanced in reading and 82.6% tested proficient or advanced in math. Assuming a correlation between funding and results, Hamlin should have been the poorest or one of the poorer performing focus districts in 2007. It was not. Moreover, Hamlin achieved these results while 42% of its students qualified for free or reduced lunches, a measure of the economically disadvantaged student population in the district.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Shannon County School District had the highest spending of the focus districts in FY 2007 at $12,889 per student, over twice the per student spending of the Hamlin School District. Once again, assuming a correlation between funding and results, Shannon County should have been one of the better performing focus districts in 2007. That was not the case. Only 32.2% of its students tested proficient or advanced in math while only 53.5% of them tested proficient or advanced in reading?the worst results of any of the focus districts. Notably, 100% of the Shannon County students qualified for free or reduced lunches.
These were far from the only such examples cited in the opinion. Obviously there are other very powerful factors that strongly influence academic achievement, and the court seemed to realize this:
Several of the witnesses agreed that poor student achievement is impacted by factors other than funding, such as parental issues, environmental issues, attendance issues, instructional programs, and internal resource allocation. Of particular concern was how to improve the performance of economically disadvantaged students. Although additional funding for pre-kindergarten programs may be one way of addressing the problem?as one expert advocated?most of the experts agreed that the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students exists in every state in the nation. A complex set of socioeconomic factors and experiences contributes to the achievement gap, and no other state has been able to eliminate the gap, including those spending nearly twice the average per pupil amount that South Dakota spends.
Do you know what the most important factor in a child’s academic success is? Parental involvement. Study after study continues to show us this, even as we try to ignore it by throwing more money at the issue. In our modern, self-absorbed culture, we seem to want to be able to pay someone else to raise our children for us. Meanwhile, the cold hard facts continue to tell us this pipe dream of alleviated responsibility is impossible.
Perhaps this is why homeschoolers do so well. In fact, homeschooling alone reveals the illegitimacy of this lawsuit. Homeschooling parents pay the same taxes into the public education system as everyone else, yet they don’t receive any of its benefit. In fact, they spend from their own pockets to buy their children books, take tests, take them on field trips, and all sorts of other expenses. My family has been homeschooling for about eight or nine years now, and we only spend about 1/8 of what is spent on South Dakota students in public schools. Yet my children consistently score off the charts in the standardized tests they are required to take every few years–far ahead of their public school peers.
It’s no wonder the court found as it did, and put it rather mildly:
The testimony and evidence raises questions about the correlation between the level of funding and student achievement. On this record, the correlation between the school funding system and poor academic results is not readily apparent.
If parents and teachers genuinely feel $8,000 per student isn’t enough to ensure their academic success, there’s nothing stopping them from holding a private fundraiser (like a “Brats for Brats” cookout).
Or they could quit chasing their own tails, wasting time and more of the taxpayer’s dollars on useless lawsuits like this one, and buckle down for some serious teaching and parenting. Of course, that’s the last thing most of these spenders-of-other-people’s-money want to do.