Nice Digs, Low Scores: The (lack of) Relationship Between Capital Costs and Student Performance

Posted on December 01, 1995 | Type: Policy Report | Author: Mary Gifford
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The Goldwater Institute has long promoted reforms that will result in a more open, market-driven, decentralized approach to public education.  Such an approach, of course, assumes a model for school finance that is dramatically different than what we have today.

Thus, it is not our intention that the conclusions of this report, which show no link between money spent on school facilities and student achievement, be used to justify the status quo with regard to capital finance.  To the contrary, we believe that an equalized system of school finance, where every child is backed by a similar amount of both capital and M&O funding, is necessary for the type of market reforms, which will result in greater student achievement.

What this report does suggest is that the academic benefits of having your child attend a well-appointed public school are illusionary.

The source for the data for this research was the "Arizona School Facilities Review," issued by MGT, Inc. in the Summer of 1995.  The main points are as follows:


  • A multiple regression analysis of the MGT data revealed no statistically significant relationship between cost per square foot and student achievement (as gauged by standardized test scores, dropout rates, and graduation rates).
  •  Even at the extremes, anecdotal evidence shows no relationship between cost per square foot and student achievement.  While the 15 most expensive schools cost an average of 102 percent more to build than the 15 least expensive schools, students attending the least expensive schools scored 2 percent better.
  • Construction costs have risen only 30 percent over the past 10 years, while bonded debt per pupil has grown by 77 percent during the same period.
  •  Poor children don't necessarily attend poor schools.  In fact, schools in which more than 50 percent of the student population is eligible for free and reduced student lunches spend and average of 5 percent more per square foot than the state average.

Read Nice Digs, Low Scores here.

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