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New Report Released: "Does School Reform = Spending Reform?"

January 17, 2017

A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University examines how New Orleans schools’ spending patterns changed after the city shifted to a charter-driven system.

The study ana­lyzes the effects of post-Kat­ri­na school reforms on the oper­at­ing expen­di­tures of New Orleans’ pub­licly fund­ed schools. Authors Chris­t­ian Buerg­er and Dou­glas Har­ris were able to esti­mate these effects by com­par­ing spend­ing lev­els of New Orleans schools from 2000 to 2014 to those of a com­par­i­son group of Louisiana school dis­tricts that had spend­ing pat­terns near­ly iden­ti­cal to New Orleans before the reforms. Researchers find that New Orleans pub­licly fund­ed schools spent 13% more ($1,358) per pupil on oper­at­ing expen­di­tures than the com­par­i­son group by 2014. Tak­ing a clos­er look at the spend­ing trends,” Buerg­er said, we found that admin­is­tra­tive expen­di­tures increased by 66% ($699 per pupil) rel­a­tive to the com­par­i­son group, while instruc­tion­al expen­di­tures decreased by 10% ($706 per pupil).” The study also finds that salaries for admin­is­tra­tors and teach­ers are mov­ing in oppo­site direc­tions, but the sit­u­a­tion is more com­pli­cat­ed than it looks. Accord­ing to Buerg­er, Teach­ers are earn­ing less because they have less expe­ri­ence. Those with the same expe­ri­ence now earn more than teach­ers before the reforms.” The fact that instruc­tion­al spend­ing has decreased despite a large increase in oper­at­ing expen­di­tures is strik­ing,” Har­ris not­ed. The increase in admin­is­tra­tive spend­ing sug­gests either that it is cost­ly for char­ter schools and CMOs to pro­vide the ser­vices that school dis­tricts nor­mal­ly would or that char­ter lead­ers think more man­age­ment-dri­ven strate­gies will be more effec­tive.” The authors also find a 33% ($300 per pupil) increase in trans­porta­tion spend­ing. The study is the first of its kind to look at the effect that switch­ing from tra­di­tion­al pub­lic schools to char­ter schools has on oper­at­ing expen­di­tures, which helps iso­late the effect of the char­ter approach. These results are some­what sur­pris­ing giv­en the com­mon con­cern that tra­di­tion­al school dis­tricts spend too much on large bureau­cra­cies,” Buerg­er said, but it is worth not­ing that these changes in spend­ing lev­els and pat­terns came along­side a large improve­ment in edu­ca­tion out­comes for stu­dents.” While this study focus­es on how New Orleans schools’ spend­ing pat­terns have changed as a result of the post-Kat­ri­na school reforms, the Edu­ca­tion Research Alliance for New Orleans has forth­com­ing stud­ies exam­in­ing the fac­tors that explain edu­ca­tor com­pen­sa­tion and school leader compensation.