Thursday, December 1, 2011

High-poverty schools shortchanged?

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that more than 40 percent of the nation's high-poverty schools are getting short shrift on local and state education money.

As many blog readers know,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spends significantly more per student at schools with the highest levels of student poverty,  in part because the federal Title I program pumps in millions of dollars in aid.  The Ed Department set out to see whether school districts are using that money to supplant state and local spending,  shifting money to wealthier schools.  They pulled federal money out of the equation and recalculated 2008-09 per-pupil spending for schools in more than 13,000 districts.

According to the news release,  more than 40 percent of Title I schools spent less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than more affluent schools in the same district.

“Educators across the country understand that low-income students need extra support and resources to succeed,  but in far too many places policies for assigning teachers and allocating resources are perpetuating the problem rather than solving it,”  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says in the release.  “The good news in this report is that it is feasible for districts to address this problem and it will have a significant impact on educational opportunities for our nation’s poorest children.”

I downloaded their data from CMS (go here for the raw data),  and it doesn't look like high-poverty schools are coming up short,  even without the federal aid factored in.  Not surprisingly,  size and need seem to be the biggest factors in high per-pupil spending;  at very small schools,  administrative,  support and building costs are divided among fewer students.  Small alternative schools had the highest state and local totals,  led by $15,545 at Derita,  which served students with severe behavioral problems.

Garinger High was the highest regular school at $7,462.   At that time,  no CMS high schools had hit the 75 percent poverty mark that CMS uses to distribute Title I aid,  but it's a high-poverty neighborhood school getting lots of extra support from CMS.  In general,  the high-spending list was dominated by small high-poverty elementary schools,  such as Shamrock Gardens and Thomasboro,  and small magnets such as the Montessori schools,  Davis Military/Leadership and Davidson IB.

The lowest per-pupil state and local spending was at large suburban schools with low poverty levels,  according to the federal tally.  Alexander Graham Middle was lowest at $2,907,  followed by Community House Middle at $3,039.  Wilson Middle,  which closed this year,  was the Title I school that landed lowest on the spending list,  95th of 167 schools.

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