Richmond: More Money, Worse Schools

Our school Superintendent posted an op-ed in the Times-Dispatch complaining that:

Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per-pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: The students who should be getting more are actually getting less.

As set out in the previous post, Virginia’s high poverty divisions actually spend on average more per pupil than the more affluent divisions.  Richmond, the gold square on the graph, spends a lot more than average; indeed, it is the tenth biggest spender (of 132).

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Table 12 in the (State) Superintendent’s Annual Report permits a look into the sources of those funds that the Richmond schools are spending.  As before, the most recent data in the state report are from 2017. 

The table breaks out division receipts by source:

  • State Sales and Use Tax (1-1/8 % of the sales tax receipts);
  • State Funds (appropriated by the Generous Assembly);
  • Federal Funds (direct federal grants plus federal funds distributed through state agencies);
  • Local Funds (local appropriations);
  • Other Funds (private sources, food service  receipts, transportation revenues, sale of assets & supplies, rebates and refunds, and receipts from other agencies); and
  • Loans, Bonds, etc. (Literary Fund loans, bonds, interest earned)

Of these, the local, state, and federal fund sources predominate.

Let’s start with a graph of the state and federal funds per student vs. the division percentage of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students:

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The immediate lesson here is that Superintendent Kamras is simply wrong about high-poverty schools being starved for outside funds: The sales tax funding is essentially flat v. % ED while the state appropriations and the federal funding increase with increasing % ED.

Richmond, the gold squares, is a bit low in terms of state funding, but that deficit is offset (and then some) by federal money.  Richmond’s sales tax funding, $1,029 per student, is hidden in the forest of other schools, almost exactly on the fitted line.

Only in local funding can we can find any hint of support for the notion that divisions with more poor students receive less money.

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Of course, it is no surprise that less affluent jurisdictions might provide fewer funds to their school systems.  For the most part, they have less money to spend on any governmental operation. 

(But when all the fund sources are added in, the spending on education increases with increasing populations of disadvantaged students: See the graph at the top of this post.)

Kamras’ own division, with a 64% ED population in its schools, nonetheless came up in 2017 with $2,249 in local funds per student more than that fitted line would predict. 

In summary, Richmond schools received LOTS of money in these categories:

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[“Predicted” values here are calculated from the Richmond % ED and the fitted lines in the graphs above.]

So, when he says “The students who should be getting more are actually getting less,” our Superintendent is wrong.  And, even more to the point, Kamras’ own schools are enjoying much more than average financial support.

The Kamras op-ed is a bald attempt to excuse the ongoing failure of the Richmond public schools to educate Richmond’s schoolchildren.  For example, on the 2018 reading pass rates:

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The excuse is contradicted by reality: Those Richmond schools are swimming in money.  Even more to the point, the performance of Virginia school divisions is unrelated to how much money they spend.  For example (here in terms of the per pupil expenditure for operations):

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It would be helpful for our Superintendent to turn his energy to improving the performance of our schools and to stop misleading the public about the reasons those schools are so ineffective.