Money matters

Selective public high schools in DC, educating mostly affluent students, receive more dollars per pupil than open enrollment neighborhood schools. That's the (not very surprising) finding of a new analysis by the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, a local advocacy group.

DC, like many large urban districts, has an ongoing discussion about how appropriate these kinds of magnet programs are. As detailed in the report, they're usually expensive. Some in DC think this is money well spent to keep high-earning professional families in the city; others contend that the money should be spent where it would have the highest impact on student achievement, usually in high-poverty schools.

The more surprising part of the news is that this kind of data is available and transparent to district leadership in DC at all, much less to the general public. Too many systems apply average salaries to school budgets districtwide, giving them very little visibility into how spending in a given school matches up with the community's priorities. Marguerite Roza's recent book, Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? describes this problem in some detail.

No matter where a community comes down on magnet schools and other spending priorities, it can't have any confidence that the money follows those priorities without accurate, school-level spending data. It's a boring subject for most, but it's critical.

Chris Tessone
Chris Tessone is a Director of Finance and Operations; at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute