A majority of new money from Proposition 30 should be given to school districts in poorer areas.
This is Gov. Jerry Brown's latest proposal for the recently voter-approved tax increase. He called it "a matter of equity and civil rights."
But is this really the best plan to help underperforming schools?
There are some studies that support a "more money" approach. One from Princeton asserts that for every $1,000 extra spent per pupil, math and reading scores are raised 3 to 4 percent. Another published in the Harvard Review of Economics and Statistics concluded that increasing teacher wages by 10 percent lowers dropout rates by 3 to 4 percent.
However, these are correlative studies, and this type of research can prove just about anything. For example, did you know that 87 percent of convicted murderers are right-handed? Obviously, one set of circumstances does not necessarily control the other.
Now let's look at the facts: Does more money for public schools actually improve graduation rates in economically deprived areas?
Camden, N.J. is a perfect example. This district spends around $23,500 per student. That's about 2 1/2 more than California spends at close to $9,375, and twice the national average of $11,824. The result? Camden High School has a graduation rate of less than 40 percent.
Well, perhaps they haven't spent enough. How about Washington, D.C.? They now allocate almost $30,000 per student. Do they fare any better? Not much. According to the Washington Post, the 2011 high school graduation rate was 58.6 percent — a drop of 20 percent from the previous year! If there is a correlation here, it is that recently increased school funding actually caused a DECREASE in graduation rates!
Now let's look at the other side of the coin. How about Alpine, Utah? They only spend $5,658 per student but have a graduation rate of 77.7 percent. Then there's Meridian, Idaho at $6,154, but 76 percent of students successfully finish high school.
Utah's average teacher salary is $42,335 while California's is $68,093. Our state's overall graduation rate is 74.4 percent while Utah's is 76 percent (so much for a correlation between teacher salaries and school success).
Then there are the charter schools. In most states, charter schools spend an average of $6,585 per student, as compared to an average of $5,000 more for their conventional counterparts. Graduation rates are equal to, if not better than, their regular public peers.
As for private institutions, most would agree that, on average, they have done a better job for less cost.
So, if money doesn't make the difference in school performance, then what does?
The primary factor is the socio-economic standing of a community. In deprived areas, this can influence the attitudes of parents and students, which are often negative or indifferent toward educational institutions. Many see no value for themselves in structured, state-run programs where they and generations of their families have failed.
Another is the massive influx of immigrants into this country, especially in our state. Students with language barriers are behind and cannot "catch up" with their native-born peers. While programs exist to help develop English skills, at the same time, California state-mandated graduation requirements make it very difficult for these young people to meet "one size fits all" completion standards.
Post-secondary parental education is the most consistent factor associated in schools and districts with the highest graduation rates. This makes sense, as these folks are scholastically successful, have usually found quality employment and have developed the skills and values necessary to help their own children succeed.
Throughout our country, politicians have thrown additional money at our public educational system for almost 60 years with little or no proportional measurable improvement.
Therefore, their ongoing "fix" can only beg the following question: Isn't it time our elected officials actually address the direct causes of school failure instead of supporting the same old simplistic solutions?
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.