Think Tank to Tennessee Education Officals: Rethink Funding Priorities

Aug 20, 2013

Credit Beacon Center

A report from a Nashville-based libertarian organization scrutinized education spending in Tennessee, and its authors said the state needs to shift education funding priorities.

The report from the Beacon Center, "Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer," dissected the $9.1 billion the state spent on public education in fiscal year 2012. What it found is that nearly 54 percent of that money, or $4 billion, went into classroom-related expenses, including teacher salaries and textbooks. But of the $4 billion, just four percent went directly into classroom instruction.

"This is not suggesting that Tennessee spends too much paying teachers," the report stated. "The question is whether Tennessee spends too little of its budget on instruction."

The study's authors also said administrative salaries have kept up with or outpaced inflation rates since 2000, while teachers themselves effectively make less than they did in 2000, adjusted to 2013 dollars.

The report also looked at correlations between per-student spending and academic performance.

"Ultimately, more spending does not equal better results. Rather than spend more money, especially on administrative personnel, school districts should focus on spending education funds more wisely," wrote Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education called the Beacon Center's report an important contribution to the larger debate over improving education in Tennessee's public schools.

"In Tennessee, we have seen continuous improvement over the past several years, but we agree that simply spending money does not necessarily result in increased student achievement," spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said. "We must make wise investments, which means spending money in a way that most directly impacts students."