Extra Bucks, Negative Return

Looking at the Division disbursement data for 2018 (now that they are up on the VDOE Web site) one sees Richmond spending some $1,875 per student for things other than its day school operations ($15,697 vs. $13,821).

Note: Here and below, the “total” disbursements include everything but spending for facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.  Specifically, they include, in addition to costs of the day school operation, spending for food services, summer school, adult education, pre-kindergarten, and “other” educational programs (“enterprise operations, community service programs, and other non-[division] programs”)

A graph of those data for the Virginia divisions suggests that Richmond (the gold square) is an outlier. 

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Indeed, along with Staunton, Petersburg, and Bristol, Richmond leads the pack in spending for things other than day school.

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Except for Charlottesville and Arlington (and Richmond, of course), the divisions with this kind of large difference are not the Big Spenders. 

A look at all the divisions shows that the difference does not scale with day school spending.

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Richmond is the gold square; the red diamonds are the peer cities, from the bottom Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.  The purple diamond is Lynchburg; the large green diamond, Charles City.

More significantly, the divisions with more of this excess spending are not getting better SOL scores.  Quite the contrary:

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The red, from the left, are Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk.

But wait: We know that the raw SOL pass rate discriminates against divisions with large populations of economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students.  So let’s look at the performance of both the ED and Not ED groups.

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That’s clear enough:  On average, the divisions that spend more money for things other than day school have lower SOL pass rates for both ED and Not ED students.  In the case of Richmond, those pass rates are grossly lower.

Notice also that the decrease in performance with increasing non-day school spending is larger for the Not ED students, particularly on the math tests. 

As always, the correlations here (where they are non-trivial) do not imply causation.  The other side of that coin, however, shows that increasing spending for things other than the day school operation is not related to improving the day school performance.

One more question for these data: How do those excess expenditures relate to the population of economically disadvantaged students?

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The free/reduced price lunch cost should merely displace other lunch spending but the School Breakfast Program costs should increase with the ED population.  And here the expenditure for things other than day school rises with the number of poorer students, with a decent correlation.  So, at least in a qualitative fashion, this makes sense. 

That said, this extra spending is not associated with more learning.  We can wonder why it’s in the education budget.

Closer to home, the Richmond spending remains a substantial outlier.  Richmond keeps demonstrating that it does not know how to competently run its day school operation.  While they are thus failing to educate Richmond’s schoolchildren, they are spending a lot of money (almost twice the average) on other things. 

If money were as important to performance as they say it is (albeit money in fact is irrelevant to performance), you’d think they would redirect some of those dollars.  Go figure.