Jay calls Marguerite Roza “the Indiana Jones of school finance,” since she “uncovers the hidden caves and tunnels that store the treasure of the public school system. Revealing where the money goes requires intrepid sleuthing, detailed analysis, and occasionally braving hostile natives.”
The main finding of Roza’s explorations is that education dollars are allocated in ways that are sharply at odds with the stated priorities of public school systems. Education leaders say they want to devote greater funding to low-income students, but within most school districts per-pupil spending is higher at schools with more-advantaged students. Education leaders say they want to focus resources on the core subjects of math, reading, history, and science, but per-pupil spending tends to be much higher for electives, extracurricular activities, and sports. Education leaders say they want to emphasize remedial instruction to help lagging students catch up, but in most school districts per-pupil spending is significantly greater for Advanced Placement (AP) and gifted classes than for remedial ones.
In the rest of the review, Jay looks at what causes this misallocation of resources and why “such blatantly contradictory spending patterns” are allowed to persist.
In 2009, Ed Next published an article by Marguerite Roza, “Breaking Down School Budgets: Following the dollars into the classroom,” that contains some of the findings that appear in the book.