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What We Stand For: Investment

Investing Wisely: Getting the Most from Education Spending

A White Paper by Paolo DeMaria and Heidi Guarino for Stand for Children Leadership Center

Public education is expensive. The cost of teachers, facilities, buses, school lunches, and all of the other components that make up the nation’s public education system cost nearly $600 billion in 2007-08. Without question, when it comes to providing every child with a quality education, money matters.

Or, more specifically, money matters when spent wisely. Sometimes public-policy debates become wholly focused on increasing the budget for schools without the partner conversation about how states and districts can best utilize school dollars. Conversely, policymakers can tout the need for improvements without investing the resources to support effective implementation of proposed changes.

But experience and research actually find that improving student achievement is clearly about both—more money, spent wisely. There is little evidence that money alone results in better outcomes for students.  How money is spent is also critically important.

Over the past several years, national economic conditions have placed fiscal pressures on state and local governments—and education has experienced the resulting state and local budget cuts. Under these intense fiscal pressures, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that existing dollars are spent as wisely as possible. Policymakers will also need to find ways to reallocate existing resources to make new investments in strategies that improve outcomes for underserved kids, at the same time as they identify additional dollars to invest in K-12 overall.

The nation needs to continue to spend significant resources, and additional resources, on primary and secondary education. But policymakers must ensure that those resources are spent wisely, and in a way that maximizes the impact on student achievement. The current national economic challenge has spurred a growing body of research and thought leadership around effective resource utilization and budget reallocation, much of which can provide useful guidance to policymakers on a tight budget who remain committed to improving student achievement.

This paper covers where school dollars are spent, effective strategies for school districts and states to align spending with desired outcomes, information about the debates on school funding adequacy and equity, and some of the proven investments that make the biggest difference for students.

The rest of this paper is available as a PDF download:


Paolo DeMaria is a Principal with Education First Consulting and previously worked extensively in education finance policy as Associate Superintendent for School Options and Finance at the Ohio Department of Education. Heidi Guarino is a communications consultant with Education First and is the former chief of staff for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

About Stand for Children Leadership Center

Stand for Children Leadership Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides leadership development and training to everyday citizens. Our mission is to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, college and career training. To make that happen, we:

  • Educate and empower parents, teachers, and community members to demand excellent public schools.
  • Advocate for effective local, state and national education policies and investments.

  • Ensure the policies and funding we advocate for reach classrooms and help students.

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Why Stand?

A message from Stand Leadership Center board member John Legend.