What Funding Gap?

The estimable Jim Bacon points to a study of school spending by state.  He concludes: “In Virginia, districts that serve mostly black students spend about $200 more per student on average.”

Well, please recall what Mark Twain said about statistics.

Please also notice that the study was prepared by EdBuild, which advocates for school funding and is funded in part by the Gates FoundationAnother study (with, obviously, a different viewpoint) asserts that of 2,625 political contributions by staff of Gates grantees, only 6 went to Republicans. 

In this context, we can wonder about the methodology of the EdBuild study: The study compared funding of “nonwhite” districts – those with more than 75% nonwhite students – with “white” districts – those with more than 75% white students.  The study does not explain the basis of the 75% criterion; it does not report the results of choosing other criteria; it does not mention local costs of living.

(Indeed, ± 75% is very close to ± 1.2 standard deviations; if there had been a statistical basis for the study, we might have expected to see a 68% or a 95% criterion.)

Thus, it is hard to know exactly what the study shows, albeit it seems to give Virginia some modest bragging rights.

There is a Virginia data set that can shed some light on the matter.  The Superintendent’s Annual Report for 2017 (the latest available data) provides at Table 13 disbursement data for each division.  I’ve extracted the day school (school operations not including food, adult ed., pre-K, etc.) expenditure per student.  The Fall Membership Report database provides the 2017 enrollments for students of all races and for “white, not of Hispanic origin” students, inter alia

If we graph the day school expenditure v. the percentage of nonwhite students, we obtain:


Of course, correlation does not imply causation (another thing the EdBuild study does not mention) but the absence of correlation does tell us to look elsewhere for causes.  Here, 93% of the variance (that’s statspeak for “scatter”) comes from factors other than the percentage of nonwhite students.

In any case, the least squares fit offers the same result as an eyeball examination: There’s LOTS of scatter but the divisions with larger nonwhite populations are not being punished.  So, modest (6.6%) bragging rights.

Looking at the data we also see that the EdBuild average being pulled up by the older, urban divisions with large nonwhite populations and with higher costs of living (with the notable exceptions of Petersburg, which has a reputation for being notoriously impoverished, and Sussex, which is decidedly non-urban).


Among those divisions, the R-squared rises to 9%.


At the other end of the spectrum, the low expenditure divisions are mostly rural counties with relatively lower costs of living.


The Big spenders here are Bath (38% of the budget is VEPCO money), Highland (43% of budget from property taxes), and Rappahannock (who knows?).

Interesting, perhaps.  It might also be interesting to look at the expenditures corrected for cost of living. 

In any case, no racial funding gap on the expenditures.

With all that said, it remains that, while school finances are important to the teachers and the schools’ bureaucrats, they are irrelevant to student performance among the Virginia divisions, e.g.,


Note: These are total disbursements, not just day school.  Richmond is the gold square; the peer cities Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk, the red diamonds; Lynchburg, blue; Charles City, green.