Are Alaska Schools Underfunded?

Education, Fiscal Policy — By on May 5, 2015 at 5:47 PM

by: Bob Griffin, Education Research Fellow

During the current legislative budget battles many individuals and groups have expressed strong concerns that the budget approved by the legislature will leave Alaska schools “underfunded”. These concerns are rarely accompanied with any explanation of what constitutes “adequate” funding.

To understand what “adequate” or “underfunded” school support means, it’s important to benchmark our investment in K-12 education compared to what other states invest. Here are some apple-to-apple metrics to compare Alaska with the rest of America:

1. Between 2004 and 2014 Alaska increased its per student expenditures 96.0% ($9,808 in 2004 to $19,224 in 2014) for K-12 education. The US average per student increase during that time frame was 37.6% while inflation was 26.6%.

2. By 2013, Alaska was #1 in K-12 spending compared to personal income (57% higher than the national average). Comparing K-12 spending to personal income is a good approximation of K-12 support, adjusted for the difference in cost of living.

3. By 2013, Alaska was #1 in K-12 spending per capita. That spending was 87% higher than the US average; 42% higher when adjusted for cost of living.

4. By 2014, Alaska was #4 in the US in per student spending for K-12 education.

5. By 2014, Alaska was #7 in the US in per student spending for K-12 education, when adjusted for the difference in cost of living between states.

6. By 2014, Alaska was #4 in the US in per student spending for K12 education, when adjusted for the cost of living between states and “free-rider”* private school students.

7. Alaska increased expenditures for K-12 education per student from 30.2% above the national average in 2004, to 73.7% above the national average in 2014.

8. For at least the last 10 years, Alaska has spent a smaller percentage of the state budget on K-12 education than any other state. That’s more of an indictment of how much the state of Alaska spends overall, than it is an indication of how generous we are toward K-12 funding .

Does Spending More Improve Student Outcomes?

While K-12 funding in Alaska was increasing much faster that the US average over the last 10 years, US Department of Education testing remained little changed relative to other states over that time frame. Here are some data from the National Assessment of Education Progress tests that the US Dept of Education administers to a sample of students in all states:

Alaska NAEP testing 2003-2013 relative to other states:

Low-Income Students
4th grade Reading, dropped from 49th to 50th
4th grade Math, dropped from 37th to 47th
8th grade Reading, increased from 49th to 48th
8th grade Math, dropped from 30th to 38th

Upper/Middle-Income Students
4th grade Reading, dropped from 44th to 48th
4th grade Math, dropped from 39th to 44th
8th grade Reading, increased from 47th to 42nd
8th grade Math, dropped from 31st to 34th

These data are indicative of some serious problems in Alaska’s public education system. Now the question is how can we get better? What can Alaska do to dramatically improve student outcomes? Do we need to reinvent the wheel or look at what other states have done? Florida is a state that has made dramatic improvements in student outcomes in the past 10 years.

Alaska vs. Florida: A Contrast in Outcomes and Costs

1. Early Childhood Literacy. The most important and most basic task of any school system is to teach children to learn to read so that students can “read to learn”.

a. Florida had the fastest improving early childhood literacy test scores in the US between 2003-2013.

b. In 2003, Florida was 28th in the US in low-income 4th grade reading. By 2013, Florida was first.

c. In 2003, Alaska was 49th in the US in low-income 4th grade reading. By 2013, Alaska was 50th.

d. In 2003, Florida was 15th in the US in upper/middle-income 4th grade reading. By 2013 Florida was 5th.

e. In 2003 Alaska was 44th in the US in upper/middle-income 4th grade reading. By 2013, Alaska was 48th.

f. By 2011, Florida low-income Hispanic 4th graders had better NAEP reading test scores than the average of all Alaskan 4th graders.

2. By 2013, the average Florida student scored better than the average Alaska student in every NAEP measurement for reading and math. In 2003, Alaska students scored slightly higher than Florida in 8th grade math; by 2013, Florida led Alaska in all eight NAEP measurements. In 2013, Florida students averaged approximately eight school months more advanced than Alaska students in NAEP test scores.

3. In 2013, 27.3% of Florida high school graduates passed at least one AP test with a score of 3 or better. In Alaska 14.6% of high school graduates scored a 3 or better.

4. Between 2004 and 2014, Alaska increased per student K-12 spending three times faster than Florida (AK 96.0% vs. FL 33.8%).

5. In 2014, Alaska spent 113% more per student than Florida (FL $9,210 vs. AK $19,224).

6. In 2013, Florida was 49th in the US in per capita spending on K-12. In 2013, Alaska was 1st; 157% higher than Florida. ( AK $3,136 vs. FL $1,218).

7. In 2013, Florida was 49th in the US in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income. Alaska was 1st; 114% higher than Florida. (AK 6.0% vs. FL 2.8%).

* (Free-rider. Alaska taxpayers pay more than the US average taxpayers for K-12 because the very low percentage of students attending private schools (4.5% –5th lowest in the US). If Alaska kids attended private school at the same rate as national average, (10.0%) Alaska taxpayers would save $145 million/year or $1,106/student).

We would encourage legislators and all Alaskans to digest the above facts and then decide if we are funding public education “adequately”. Let’s all take a look at how much Alaska spends, then determine if we are getting a return on our investment.  We owe nothing less to our kids.

[References: NEA Rankings and Estimates, 2005, 2015, Council of Community and Economic Research (C2ER), US Dept of Education 2013 NAEP Results]

 

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