The Kentucky Department of Education recently filled in the long-missing spending per student data in its Kentucky School Report Cards database for 2016-17, and it also recently posted the Revenue and Expenditure Report online for the same school year.
But, as in the past, the numbers still don’t look right.
In his weekly column, carried in many Kentucky newspapers such as The Advocate-Messenger, BIPPS’ Jim Waters discusses one early and obvious observation: There is a huge disparity in per pupil spending across the state for what supposedly are all standard (Type A1) schools.
For example, at the bottom of the new listing, the Dawson Springs Elementary School is reported as only spending $4,551 per student in 2016-17 while the Alex R. Kennedy Elementary School in Jefferson County supposedly spent an astonishing $20,802 per pupil. Although Kennedy has a much higher minority population, Dawson Springs Elementary has higher school lunch eligibility and a notably higher number of students in special education. After spending more than 4-1/2 times as much per student as Dawson Springs Elementary, Kennedy does get somewhat higher test scores for math and reading, but the bang for the buck sure doesn’t look very good. In any event, the spending disparity is simply amazing.
It gets worse.
According to the newly released Revenue and Expenditure report, the Dawson Springs Independent School District collected $11,148 per pupil in 2016-17. But, the lone elementary school in the district only spent that $4,551 per student, and the district’s only other school, the Dawson Springs Jr/Sr High School, scarcely spent more at just $4,991 per pupil. How does a district take in over $11,000 per pupil but send less than $5,000 per pupil to the schools?
There’s a lot more that Jim Waters didn’t have space to cover. Let’s look at some of that.
The Webster County School District is another Kentucky school system with a school getting rock bottom per pupil spending. Webster County’s Dixon Elementary School reportedly only spent $5,693 per student in 2016-17. But, here’s the kicker, other Type A1 elementary schools in the very same district reportedly spent as much as 66 percent more. All in the same school district.
Check the Webster County data assembled in this table.
Clay Elementary has virtually identical white enrollment to Dixon Elementary and not much different school lunch rates. The only notable difference is Clay has a high enrollment of students with disabilities. But, is this difference enough to explain the huge difference in per pupil spending in those two schools?
Or, how do you figure that the Providence Elementary School gets over $400 less per student than Clay Elementary when Providence has much higher lunch rates, much lower white enrollment, and not terribly different special education enrollment percentages?
Also note that the Webster County School District took in $16,238 per pupil in 2016-17; but, once you examine what each school got to spend, a whole lot of that money seems to have been held by the district. How is that happening? Where is all that money going? Maybe there are good explanations, but – assuming these figures are even close to correct – we need to know how and why one school in the district wound up with much more money than the others and how so much money seems to have been withheld from the district’s schools.
Of course, as Jim Waters alluded to in his column, we also wonder if any of these funding mysteries really happened at all. For sure, the funding data we just got for schools presents some really questionable situations. And, that is a problem we’ve been writing about for years (such as in our Bang for the Buck 2012 report). How can the state’s education managers and policy makers work intelligently for our students when the quality of the funding information seems so questionable?
We hear from educators all the time about how the schools are under-funded. Maybe those educators need look no further than their local school district offices to find out that there is plenty of money around, but it just isn’t getting to the classroom. Before we hear more demands for more money from educators, how about some more accurate information about where the money already in the system is actually going.