Is More Better? Education Spending Increases in Hawaii

Graphic by Emily Metcalf

Graphic by Emily Metcalf

BY MELISSA SHORT – Hawaii’s per pupil expenditure climbed to $12,399 in 2009, ranking it as the 11th highest in the nation, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. This new rate marks a 12% increase compared to the previous year.

But, will increased spending ensure educational improvements in Hawaii?

Sources posit that there is no positive correlation between high per pupil expenditures and higher test scores. And this seems about right for Hawaii.  Even in spending among the highest in the nation, the state struggles to ensure that all of its students meet critical benchmarks. Hawaii’s performance is consistently behind the national average in math, reading, writing and science, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. What’s more, 28 states that spent less per pupil than Hawaii scored higher than Hawaii on the NAEP in 2005.

As per pupil costs increase, we’re left to wonder how much of it will Hawaii’s students actually see? Only 51% of Hawaii’s education expenditures is dedicated to instruction – leaving a large portion of funds diverted away from students.  Hawaii needs to re-evaluate how it allocates educational funds and ensure that student performance is the focus.

Flexible funding models that increase student choice may prove beneficial for student performance. Specifically, performance-based funding is a promising model. The Florida Virtual School employs this model, where the virtual school is funded only after the student successfully completes a course. Hawaii could employ this model or one similar to it.  The state could tie student outcomes to funding by enabling students to employ a portion of their per pupil funding for alternative learning opportunities, such as for Hawaii’s E-School or for taking classes with online learning providers that have a proven record of success.

The bottom line? Instead of simply increasing funding each school year, Hawaii needs to re-evaluate its resource allocation and move towards a student-centric model.

Melissa Short wrote this for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii