I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

04 January 2013

Poor Schools Are Not Flush With Poor School Cash

Every few weeks I read or hear that poor schools have all kinds of money wealthy schools do not.  It's true that certain monies - for instance, federal Title I funds  - are distributed based on a school's low-income student population.  It's also true that SFUSD uses a weighted student formula that in theory provides additional cash to high-needs schools.

To the extent that these programs are effective, this is equity in action.  Poor schools need more and they should get more.  Equality is not equity.  Since I believe that we should strive towards equity, I am not particularly moved by the plaint of the wealthy school.

That said, these programs aren't that effective and don't serve to provide poor schools with vast, Scrooge McDuck style cash swimming pools.  (NB: We are not talking about SIG schools here, but your everyday high-needs school.)  Some data contrary to the myth:
  1. Federal funding is approximately 10-12% of a school's budget, so the federal Title I program isn't ever that enormous a sum.
  2. The Weighted Student Formula also means that schools pay a set sum per teacher.  If your teachers are low-seniority and/or don't take some benefits, you are paying more than the actual teacher cost.  If your teachers are high-seniority, you are paying less.  High-needs schools in SFUSD have lower overall seniority.  Please note: I'm not taking a position on whether or not this is a good way to budget.  It has some positive effects.  I am saying that its costs are not shared across the District.
  3. Certain District funds for high-needs schools (or at least the large subset with lower test scores) are restricted.  STAR money buys you a specific set of services; it is not unrestricted money to be used as the school deems fit.
  4. School funding overall is lousy.  High-needs schools may be getting some extra cash (although locally, the teacher averaging offsets it).  That doesn't mean they are well-funded.
The other big issue for me is that in SFUSD, some schools are raising big funds - at times exceeding 40% of the school's annual budget - via Parent-Teacher Organzations/Associations.  Here's a link to a Guidestar search for San Francisco PTAs.  Not all list their actual annual funds, but a number do, and the numbers are big.

This is unrestricted funding, and it significantly impacts what schools can offer.  Among the things that these funds are providing at SFUSD schools:
  • additional art and music supplies and instruction
  • sensory-motor materials and instructors
  • garden teachers
  • reduced class sizes in 4th and 5th grades
  • physical education
  • language programming
Which is awesome for the schools that can raise this kind of money.  Of course, the schools that do are not high-needs ones.  So most schools not receiving Title I funding are more than making up for it.

I would like to specifically state that the entirety of my point here is that poor schools aren't rolling in piles of money.  (And also?  That the "poor school squandering money" image reminds me of the welfare queen myth.)  I believe that schools should offer every service they can, and I'm not bashing on PTOs for doing so.  But when we hear that a wealthy school just doesn't have the funding a poor school does, I think it's fair to ask to see the proof.

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