As my colleague Charlotte Hays rightly notes here:

…underfunding is not what holds American education back. There is often an inverse relation or no correlation between academic performance and increasing spending on education.

As I explain in a recent USA Today column average per-pupil funding nationwide exceeds $12,000, but only about 54 percent of that amount funds what’s broadly considered instruction. The rest goes toward administration, food service, capital projects, and debt.

What’s more, spending varies widely from state to state. Per-pupil funding ranges between less than $8,000 in Utah and Idaho, yet skyrockets past $28,000 per pupil in top-spender DC.

If the rationale behind the political ad campaigns were true, students in top spending states would outperform those in lower spending states—but that’s not the case:

Moreover, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average NAEP reading and math performance levels among low-income students (those who qualify for the national school lunch program) are virtually identical in the top- and bottom-spending states. In both cases they're abysmal, with just one of five low-income students proficient in reading at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. In math, one in four low-income fourth-graders tests proficient (at both the highest and lowest spending levels), while even fewer eighth-graders are proficient — 18% in the bottom-spending states, 20% in the top-spending states.

These sorts of results aren’t a one-time fluke:

Beginning with the 1979-80 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education was established, through the 2010-11 school year, total K-12 student enrollment increased 20%.

During this same period, the number of staff designated as "teachers" increased more than 73%. Total public school spending, meanwhile, increased 130%, adjusted for inflation. Student achievement, meanwhile, flatlined at best, and by some measures took a nosedive.

Parental choice programs empower parents to choose their children’s schools and have the best track records at improving student outcomes, including higher academic performance and graduation rates.

What’s more, because these programs cut out the hefty government middleman, they don’t have the biggest price tag, either.

Money certainly matters in education, by how it’s spent—and and who’s in charge of spending it—matters far more.

This election season, voters shouldn’t be asking which candidates promise to spend more, but which ones will support the expansion of parental choice programs in their states.

That’s the real win-win policy approach for students, families, and taxpayers.