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The Center for Governmental Research, based in Rochester, caused a stir when it published a study ranking per pupil spending in the nation’s school districts.

Buffalo ($26,903) and Rochester ($20,984) were ranked in the top 10 highest-spending districts.

Critics were quick to say, “Look, they spend the most, but have the worst results!”

It turns out, the districts spending the most per pupil have high poverty rates. That’s because CGR divided a district’s entire budget by enrollment. The Buffalo News reported:

The study calculated spending per student by dividing total district expenditures by total district enrollment, two figures that were pulled from federal Census of Governments data that was recently released, (CGR’s Kent) Gardner said.

He noted that the data was very “top-level.”

“We did a really rough-and-ready ranking,” he said.

The district per pupil spending figures included money spent on subsidized lunches, special education and support services. CGR even included the amount of money the districts siphon off to charter schools, even though it didn’t include charter school enrollment.

Forty million dollars of the Rochester City School District budget goes to charter schools, universal pre-kindergarten, food service, and incarcerated youth. Those are just some of the expenses lower-needs districts don’t incur.

I have no doubt there’s fat in the RCSD budget. But it would be interesting to see how much money each district spends on things that directly impact students. Measurements such as class size, course-offerings, extracurricular activities, field trips and support services would be interesting. I think you’d see very different results.

Links of the Day:

– A New York Times op-ed asks if great teachers can overcome poverty.

– A rebuttal to so-called liberal pundits attacking teachers.

– Were the latest round of Kodak layoffs one short?

– Four Bills games are at risk of being blacked out.

Living downtown is awesome.

5 Responses to School Spending Rankings

  1. Per-pupil comparison is a recklessly irresponsible way of comparing school district spending. It presumes that that all students, all neighborhoods, all cities and towns are roughly equivalent, save for the amount spent on them. We wouldn’t expect our children to be so judged, but we think we’re serving some higher purpose by making an equivalent comparison between the schools. CGR is better than this.

  2. I like your summation of the things that matter in school, field trips, course offerings, extracurricular activities and class sizes as well as support services. They matter. Standardized tests mean little more than a tense, boring school day or days and looking the scores up in the paper, etc later. Now they also mean teacher evaluations. That isn’t what school should be about. I remember my field trips the most, especially the one to Fisher’s museum in Victor which we went on almost every year in elementary school. And ones to the beach in the spring to picnic. I also liked small classes where I could work independently and use the teacher as a mentor or guide not a lecturer in front of my classroom. We also had choice in courses in junior high and high school where I took Death, Mystery, Hollywood Film and Famous American Literature for English and Recycling in Science. Holocaust for Social Studies. Now kids have generic classes all the way through middle and high school where interests don’t matter.

  3. Some interesting points here Rachel. Why wouldn’t they include the Charter School enrollment numbers in the denominator if the budget was in the numerator? That’s an odd choice. Can they re-calculate with those students in the total? Shouldn’t be hard too do… What then? Perhaps we just have a higher percentage in charter schools than most…. Has anyone asked them for this number?

  4. September 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm Bill Stratton responds:

    A very clear statement of why we should take ratios like this (“district per pupil spending”) with the very hackneyed grain of salt. I know I sound like a statistician, but I must state it here: what does the result of the calculation “district per pupil spending” tell us when a large set of possible external contributing variables (e.g., poverty rates, size of the district, percent of the district population requiring special services, age of the educational facilities, value placed on education by the district population, etc.) are not controlled? And if there are many contributing variables and/or they have an accumulative effect that is quite large, is there enough power in the measurement to allow you to honestly use the ratio of “district per pupil spending” for public measurement, conclusions, or comparisons? In social measures — where so many uncontrolled influences interact to produce a result — a simplistic ratio is meaningless. JMHO.

  5. CGR is about as unbiased as the D&C is. Were they not based in Rochester would anyone pay attention to them? Are they frequently quoted or contracted to do reports in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany…… even Watertown? CGR is a ‘think tank’ and not an “independent, non-partisan agency for keeping citizens informed.” (from Roc Wiki). They have become a mouthpiece for those with political agendas only, not a voice of information for the people. Were the local media to ignore their press releases and their ‘findings’ I would think we would be well on our way to having genuine discussions of issues instead of the constant left/right he said/she said that has done so much to divide the area into city/county. That goes for the D&C, City Newspaper, WHAM1180 and more. There is a difference between reporting and editorializing.

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