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“Bang for the Buck 2012: How efficient are Kentucky’s schools?” updates a previous study by the institute, this time ranking the Bluegrass State’s school districts – instead of individual schools – on their efficiency ratio of ACT test scores to per-pupil spending.
The results found in this study make it clear: the answer to providing a quality education is not just more tax dollars, but in making better use of available resources,” said staff education analyst Richard G. Innes, the author of the report. “It adds more evidence that poverty is no excuse for failing to adequately prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century marketplace.
For one example, the report ranks the Harlan Independent District as the second-most score versus spending efficient school system in the state, despite a student poverty rate nearly equal to the state average.
Barbourville Independent, the fourth-most efficient district, gets above average test scores with well below average funding despite a school-lunch rate that is higher than the statewide average.
“Student poverty clearly does not stand in the way of efficiency in Harlan and Barbourville,” Innes said. “They show what can be done.”
The study also identifies four “Diamond in the Rough” school districts that are giving taxpayers above-average bang for their education bucks despite above-average poverty rates.
Those districts, Graves County, Eminence Independent (Henry Co.), LaRue County and Mason County, each posted efficiency scores for their 2011 data at least 10 percent better than the state average even though their student lunch eligibility rates equal or exceed the state average. They also surpassed the average ACT Composite score for all districts by at least half a point and posted better than average high school graduation rates in 2010, as well.
“Normally all four ‘Diamond in the Rough’ districts would be overlooked because they get neither the top academic scores nor the lowest funding,” Innes said. “But it’s their efficiency – the combination of good bang for each buck despite considerable poverty rates – that makes these districts stand out.”
Innes did find some common threads in these efficiently operating districts:
- Using credible data to establish high expectations.
- Emphasizing building and maintaining strong and respectful relationships with students and parents and between teachers and administrators.
- Using digital learning to open up new opportunities to maximize the value of time and financial resources. For example, Eminence Independent provides students taking dual-credit college courses at Bellarmine University in Louisville a computer and a bus equipped with WiFi so that the 40-minute commute is not wasted.
“We hope that all Kentucky superintendents will learn from the excellent model of efficiency provided by these districts,” said Jim Waters, interim president of the Bluegrass Institute. “With the state’s current economic challenges, it behooves our school districts’ leaders to apply these best practices and become more efficient in all aspects of their operations.”