Friday, June 5, 2015

RCSD per pupil spending doesn't tell the whole story

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 10:16 AM

The Rochester City School District spends more than $20,000 per student, more than just about any other district in the country, according to recent US census data. That’s higher than neighboring Buffalo and Syracuse.

Shocking? Breaking news? Hardly. 

This story comes around about once a year, and the city school district never comes out looking good. The district’s budget is now hovering around $800 million, but its graduation rate has only recently inched back above 50 percent. Though it’s moving in the right direction, the numbers are discouraging. Where does all that money go? And why are the results so, what’s the word? Lousy.

Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, is quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle saying that the data should be a wake-up call, and that money alone cannot solve the state’s education crisis.

Hyperbole aside, the entire state is not in crisis. Most middle-class suburban school districts are doing just fine. Probably the most revealing point in D&C writer Justin Murphy’s story is at the end. He writes that most of the other local districts spend between $15,000 and $18,000 per student, with Victor the lowest at $11,801.

But how much does the RCSD have in common with the Victor school district? Frankly, not a lot.

How many of Victor’s students are chronically absent? How many are homeless? How many refugee students have relocated to Victor recently? How many non-English speaking students does Victor have, and how many different languages are spoken by students in Victor’s schools? How many millions does that district have to spend on busing students due to school choice? How much does Victor spend on special education services? 

It’s disingenuous for Sedlis to say that money alone is not the answer. Money is never the answer when it’s not needed. But it shouldn't be surprising that a city with one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country is also spending more per pupil in its schools.

While many of RCSD’s critics use the data to lobby for more charter schools, it’s ironic that many charter school advocates are now seeking more money from Albany. They’re realizing that their continued success requires more funding.

And it’s worth noting that officials at the University of Rochester weren’t about to rush into a partnership with the city school district to turn around the troubled East High school on the cheap.

Yes, the census data is a wake-up call: poverty is expensive.

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