In “Funding Fantasies” (download here: http://www.npri.org/
Well, good question.
In Clark County (Las Vegas area), the school district reported per pupil spending for the recent school year would be $7,175, but dividing budgeted spending for the school year by the number of students, actual spending per student is $13,387. In Washoe County (Reno area), actual spending per pupil by weighted enrollment was $11,395. But the basic support claimed by the district is $5,323. Not included there is “additional revenue from...federal funds, local funds, capital project funds, food service funds, special service funds and debt service.”
This problem is not singular to the State of Nevada. Gibbons writes “[u]nderreporting of per-pupil spending is a nationwide practice. In the District of Columbia, Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute found that D.C. schools spent more than $24,600 per student—despite officially claimed expenditures around $13,500 per student. Meanwhile the average tuition at a D.C. private school that accepted vouchers from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was just $6,620.”
Well, one way of reading this is to confirm suspicions: a huge portion of the money spent on public schools never makes its way into the classroom. It is in the interest of administrators and educators to cry “not enough money” when the truth is closer to “not enough money well spent.”
Gibbons finds that of the $13,387 to be spent per pupil in Clark County in 2008-2009, only $4,514 (33.7%) was to be spent on “instruction related expenses.” Average salaries within the district range from $55,651 for workers in facilities to $113,189 to those in curriculum and professional development. He asks, “Can CCSD's academic results justify these generous average salaries?”…and notes “[t]he district employs 32,202.39 full time equivalent staff (FTE) on its payroll. That’s roughly one employee per 10 students, and an average salary-and-benefits package of $69,871.”
WestEd, a non-profit research institution based in San Francisco, looked at student graduation and achievement rates in Nevada in 2005. The institute concluded in the executive summary to its report (done in collaboration with the Center for Education Policy Studies, CEPS, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas):
Our review of the state’s student achievement and graduation rate data leads to several findings:
On achievement. Despite some recent gains among the state’s high school students, achievement remains low, ranking Nevada near the bottom among U.S. states. Moreover, as in other states, a significant racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gap persists.
On the graduation rate. Although wide variations exist across districts, Nevada’s overall graduation rate is one of the nation’s lowest. Here, too, the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gap is evident.
Well, there are gaps and gaps.
NPRI found a gap in school districts’ knowledge: “whether [districts'] spending patterns have any link at all to the policy priorities they publicly profess”…or is spending “an accidental system in which spending decisions, regulations and other restrictions are made piecemeal and with conflicting intent”...noting that “[s]chool board contracts with teacher unions currently determine how nearly half of all funds available to public education are used.”
Of course, teacher unions have a purpose…to increase teacher pay and benefits, but is that synonymous with increasing student achievement? Looking at results, the answer is “not necessarily.”
Accounting, also, has a purpose, but is it to clarify where the money goes or to obfuscate? In Nevada and in the nation, school districts hide the significant expenditures that create a top-heavy school bureaucracy and then claim to the public that they haven't enough money to educate students to even mediocre standards. Perhaps pundits should pan it as trickle down (maybe) learning.