How to Spend Our Education Dollars Productively in Small School Districts

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When it comes to education, not all spending is equal. Some education dollars are spent more productively than others. In other words, some school districts use their resources well and show higher levels of student achievement for the same amount of spending compared to other districts. In a time of lagging revenues and flat achievement in many districts, policymakers have increasingly started to pay greater attention to the question of whether we are getting the most out of every education dollar.

At the same time, policymakers have begun to rethink the fundamental design of our education system. Our education-governance structures were built in a different era, and in many states, little attention has been given to improving the organization and design of states’ education systems. Indeed, over time many states have allowed some exceedingly odd systems to evolve. In Nebraska, for example, there are a number of very small districts that are noncontiguous. In other words, some Nebraska districts are nested like little islands within the confines of other districts. Likewise, school spending is a haphazard affair in a number of states. In New Jersey, due to size and other historical governance issues, the Lower Cape May Regional High School District spends $50,000 a year per student to send its students to a regional high school. The average spending per district on students in New Jersey, however, is around $17,000.

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