Improving Schools Starts with a Balanced Budget
One of the most valuable tools of TikTok has been its ability to give viewers an unfiltered look into any place, anywhere in the world. Carmel High School, a public high school 16 miles outside of Indianapolis, went viral on TikTok for its incredible facilities that have opportunities for every student there. From a swimming pool that could rival some college natatoriums to a radio studio to an auto shop, Carmel High School isn’t America’s average high school. Some commenters were jealous, others were in disbelief that a public high school exists in America with features that are more often seen in private schools, but many more were quick to point out how Carmel’s high household wealth has impacted the school district. However, spending more money on education doesn’t always equal better outcomes, especially depending on how that money is being spent.
Proponents of school choice argue that your zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of your education, since public schools are currently funded by local property taxes and state money. Carmel, IN has a median household income of $119,772 and only 3% of its population lives in poverty. Baltimore, MD, on the other hand, has a median household income of $54,124 and 20.3% of its population lives in poverty.
Carmel High School spends about $9600 per student and has proficiency rates of 89% and 71.5% for English and Math respectively. Only 7.1% and 8.9% of students who attend Patterson High School in Baltimore are proficient in Math and English respectively and yet Patterson High School spends about $21,000 per student.
Teachers, parents, and students should be asking why Carmel High School spends more than 50% less than Patterson High School, yet has significantly better student outcomes. The money Carmel High School is spending is clearly being well spent compared to Patterson High School—thus the answer lies not in the quantity of money spent, but in the way in which school districts are spending it, as well as the community students are growing up in.
A study conducted by Education Next reinforces the idea that spending more money doesn’t equal better test scores. From 1992 to 2011, Tennessee increased its spending by $2,000 per pupil, yet had the same test score gains as Wyoming which spent about $6,000 per pupil. Some states do benefit from spending more money per pupil, as Maryland spent the most money per pupil in the same period and had the largest increase in test score gains. However, this is an exception and not the rule, as the study found no substantive difference in outcomes when spending more per student.
Just as important as it is to ask how much a school is spending is to ask what they’re spending it on. For example, in Texas for the 2022-2023 school year, a new teacher will have an annual salary of $33,660, which increases for each additional year of teaching up to $54,540 for over 20 years of teaching. By comparison, 59 Texas superintendents are paid over $300,000 per year, with the highest salary at $512,439. Imagine what a school would look like if more money went towards hiring better teachers and paying more competitive salaries, improving a school’s infrastructure, or providing more programs to address specific student needs.
Success in education also lies in a child’s upbringing. Children who grow up in two-parent homes experience several advantages compared to single-parent households. They’re more likely to graduate high school and college, less likely to have out-of-wedlock births, and are less likely to live in poverty by about 82 percent. Over 57% of those living with married parents live in households with incomes 200% above the poverty line compared to 21% of those in single-parent homes. Changing education outcomes relies just as much on schools managing funds better as it does on parents and a child’s life at home, something that Carmel High School students certainly benefit from.
The American education system took a big hit at the start of the pandemic, and many parents and teachers have continued to transform how students learn. From virtual learning to homeschooling, to eliminating standardized tests and trying to place a greater emphasis on attending trade schools over college, the American education system is likely to keep seeing improvements and changes. To make these improvements though, educators and parents be paying greater attention to how funds are spent and how they raise their children.
To everyone criticizing Carmel High School in Indiana, they should instead be asking how they can improve their schools and communities to look more like Carmel High School, a school that has figured out how to provide a quality education to over 5,000 students for a fraction of the cost. Fixing cultural attitudes towards family life will take much longer to change, but if we want to give every child a chance at the best opportunities in life, we have to start with improving how education funds are spent by public schools.