Proven: No rhyme or reason to school funding

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School district funding “patterns” defy logic, analysis.

This week we have been investigating student funding at SC public schools.

Readers were shocked to hear South Carolina public schools spend an average of $11,480 per student, despite years of sustained underperformance.

Equally surprising was the fact that a mere 44 cents per dollar of that huge sum reaches the classroom.

Wednesday, we showed that despite the huge statewide average, there are massive spending gaps between districts, often within the same county. This intra-county comparison showed that poor districts received more money (despite Jim Rex’s claim otherwise), but statewide the pattern is less clear.

This left us wondering – how can you explain gaps of $10,000 between districts. Do lawmakers give money to districts based on enrollment? Performance? Student composition? Is there any rhyme or reason at all to the current funding formula(s)?

Trying to make sense of the dollars, and hoping to identify a pattern, we compared spending to 1. district size; 2. district test scores; and 3. percentage of low-income student enrollment.

1. Enrollment to Spending.jpg

1. Comparison of district enrollment to per pupil spending

2. SAT scores to Spending.jpg

2. Comparison of district SAT scores to per pupil spending

3. Poverty to Spending.jpg

3. Comparison of district poverty ratio to per pupil spending

Does it look like a lot of random dots? It sure does. That’s because there is no discernible correlation between school spending and enrollment, performance or student composition in South Carolina public schools.

Our school funding is completely choatic. Lawmakers must to buckle down and reform the broken system.

Only when the state funds the child, not the monolithic administrative districts, can we begin to address problems like the 158 per day drop out rate and the shameful race-based performance gap. Without a coherent funding formula we are blindly throwing money at problems that are not going away. If wasting money solved problems South Carolina would have emerged from its last-in-the-nation status years ago.

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7 responses to “Proven: No rhyme or reason to school funding

  1. The number of F&R and special need students can drastically affect the “average” cost per child. Have you factored those things in?

  2. Jim,
    Nice to see a Rock Hill (York) District 3 Board of Trustee weigh in.
    You seem to suggest that the individual characteristics of the students influence the expense of instructing them. Certainly that makes sense.
    This post is about the money allocated to school districts and the huge variability in how that amount relates to student and district characteristics.
    “F&R” (or free and reduced lunches) is a measure of poverty, which we graphed in chart 3.
    More FR kids is supposed to mean more money allocated (that is one intent of the current system) but it clearly does not in practice.
    Higher allocations for special needs students should average out since we did a per pupil mean.
    If your concern is student variability you ought to support “smart-funding” or “backpacking”. This means a student based formula (with weights for individual pupil characteristics) and no programmatic or categorical restrictions on how the money can be spent.
    Smart funding would mean a LOT more leeway for your Board, and the school leadership in your district to employee resources as you see fit.

  3. Mitchell Dobrenen

    I did a little research on school funding last fall. I’m still trying to find my file to see how I arrived at the following. My calculations showed that in South Carolina spending for special education students amounted to $180,000 per student. I haven’t been able to verify that number, but whether that is the actual figure or not, the fact that many people would accept that number as accurate is frightening. I’m thinking that I’m off by one or two zeros, but sadly I wouldn’t be surprised if is $180,000.

  4. The most interesting aspect of this study is its support for the findings of the 1961 Coleman Report . In that famous report, sociologist James S. Colemen shows that funding is unrelated to performance. Nearly 50 years later, nothing has changed. Families educate children, schools can be a big help or not, depending on factors mostly unrelated to funding. Every educated person who has studied this issue, without a funding agenda, knows this.

    It would be more useful to have scatter diagrams like these inspired by Coleman’s findings that
    1) correlate SAT scores and the average education of district parents and
    2)SAT scores and percent of 2-parent households in a district.

  5. Homeschool Mom

    I live in Florence District 4 and, even though I work fulltime, I also homeschool my teenage daughter precisely because the district is so bad. I spend only a few hundred dollars per year on her education, but I know she is learning and preparing for college. I only wish that the state would address this as a serious issue and not simply throw more of my tax dollars at the problem.

  6. You really need to consider hiring a statistician to look at your info.

    I’ve seen the relationship between SAT scores and funding a hundred times, and you need to compensate for how many people take the test! Once you do, you’ll see a clear relationship: more money means higher scores!

  7. So why doesn’t $18,000 per student in Jasper County mean nation’s best scores?

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