Are the school districts that currently receive more state dollars doing better academically than those districts who currently receive less?

If a small increase in funds statewide would have a dramatic impact on achievement, as supporters of Initiative 42 claim, wouldn’t we expect to see a correlation between districts that currently receive more money and achievement? Unfortunately, no such correlation exists. In fact, there appears to be an inverse relationship between greater funding and academic achievement.

In a recent Clarion-Ledger column, we wrote about the Tunica School District, a failing district that has now been taken over by the state. Tunica failed despite the fact that they spend $11,471.74 per student – about $2,500 more than the state average and almost $4,500 more per pupil than neighboring A-rated Desoto County spends.

But this is not an isolated example. Many of the school districts that spend the most money per student have the lowest test scores, graduation rates, and rankings from the Mississippi Department of Education. On the flip side, many of the top performing school districts spend significantly less than the state average.

In fact, the school district that spends the most per student is the Clay County School District, a small district in Northeast Mississippi. This district spends $18,107.54 per student, according to 2012-2013 data from the Mississippi Department of Education, the most recent data available. By comparison, the annual tuition at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland – considered one of the best college preparatory institutions in the nation – is $15,450 for grades 9-12.

The top five school districts in the state based on per pupil spending (with accountability rankings) are:
1. Clay County School District (C)*- $18,107.54
2. Hollandale School District (C)- $15,500.98
(For comparison: St. Andrew’s School- $15,450)
3. Montgomery County School District (D)- $14,811.00
4. Benoit School District (C)**- $14,198.17
5. Coffeeville School District (C)- $13,509.46

Of the 42 school districts that spend more than $10,000 per student, only seven are rated an A or B.


In Mississippi, average per pupil spending in 2013 was $8,932, which includes local, state, and federal dollars. Here is a look at the average spending by accountability ranking classification:
– The average per pupil spending for A rated school districts is $8,499.71
– The average per pupil spending for B rated school districts is $8,674.10
– The average per pupil spending for C rated school districts is $10,074.55
– The average per pupil spending for D rated school districts is $9,994.50
– There were no F rated school districts in 2014.

Like gas in a car, it takes money to run a classroom. And perhaps it requires more money to run a school district in a high poverty area. But just as pouring more gas into a car will not make it run faster or more efficiently, simply increasing spending on education will not solve our education woes.

We must fund our schools. No one is arguing against that. In fact, the legislature has poured more money into K-12 education in the last four years than ever before. But money alone won’t solve this. Our public education challenges run deep. Improving academic results will require innovation solutions and evidence-based, student-centered reforms, some of which the legislature has already implemented. Mississippi has a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.