A comprehensive look at K-12 taxpayer funds and outcomes

Aaron Garth Smith, Christian Barnard And Jordan Campbell

Public education is grappling with an unprecedented set of challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, nationwide public school enrollment is down by over 1.2 million students compared with pre-pandemic levels, including losses exceeding 5% in New York, Oregon, and Mississippi. 

Research suggests that families are increasingly choosing homeschooling or private schools, with demographic factors—such as drops in school-age populations—also contributing to enrollment declines. Because states generally tie funding to student counts, this could have substantial effects on school district budgets.

Students also fell behind during COVID-19, with 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress results showing historic losses for 4th and 8th graders in both reading and math.


Aaron Smith:

  1. There isn’t a consistent relationship between education funding growth and student outcomes across states.

For example, New York had a substantial increase in per-student funding between 2002 and 2020—ranking first in the nation at 70.2% growth.

Despite the increased spending, New York’s NAEP scores were largely flat during that period, including declines in both 4th and 8th grade reading scores.