Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem

Big Brothers Big Sisters, Uncategorized

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The National average each district spends per student, per school is $11,841. Below is a link that shows the average money spent per student for school in Macomb, Bushnell, Monmouth and the rest of the country.

Let’s begin with a choice.

Say there’s a check in the mail. It’s meant to help you run your household. You can use it to keep the lights on, the water running and food on the table. Would you rather that check be for $9,794 or $28,639?

It’s not a trick question. It’s the story of America’s schools in two numbers.

That $9,794 is how much money the Chicago Ridge School District in Illinois spent per child in 2013 (the number has been adjusted by Education Week to account for regional cost differences). It’s well below that year’s national average of $11,841.

Ridge’s two elementary campuses and one middle school sit along Chicago’s southern edge. Roughly two-thirds of its students come from low-income families, and a third are learning English as a second language.

Here, one nurse commutes between three schools, and the two elementary schools share an art teacher and a music teacher. They spend the first half of the year at different schools, then, come January, box up their supplies and swap classrooms.

“We don’t have a lot of the extra things that other districts may have, simply because we can’t afford them,” says Ridge Superintendent Kevin Russell.

One of those other districts sits less than an hour north, in Chicago’s affluent suburbs, nestled into a warren of corporate offices: Rondout School, the only campus in Rondout District 72.

It has 22 teachers and 145 students, and spent $28,639 on each one of them.

What does that look like?

Class sizes in Rondout are small, and every student has an individualized learning plan. Nearly all teachers have a decade of experience and earn, on average, more than $90,000. Kids have at least one daily break for “mindful movement,” and lunch is cooked on-site, including a daily vegetarian option.

The Simple Answer

Why does Rondout have so much and Ridge so little?

Over the past six months, NPR Ed and 20 of our member station partners set out to explore this basic question.

The simple answer is that many of Rondout’s neighbors are successful businesses. They pay local taxes, and those taxes help pay for local schools. Ridge simply has less to work with — fewer businesses, lower property values.

More broadly: “You’ve got highly segregated rich and poor towns,” says Bruce Baker of Rutgers University, who studies how states pay for their public schools. “[They] raise vastly different amounts of local revenue based on their local bases, and [Illinois] really doesn’t put much effort into counterbalancing that.”

To be fair, Illinois gives more money to Ridge than it does to Rondout. It’s just not nearly enough to level the playing field.

For more on how Illinois pays for public schools, click here.

This tale of two schools isn’t specific to Illinois. It plays out across the U.S., with kids the same age, in the same grade attending schools that try to educate them with wildly different resources. On average, New York, Alaska, and Wyoming each spent more than $17,000 per student in 2013, while California, Oklahoma and Nevada spent roughly half that.

Below, you can see that remarkable variation for yourself — and find out what schools are spending where you live. NPR teamed up with Education Week to build this map of per-student spending nationwide (adjusted for regional cost differences).

 In Illinois, which is our best guess for the state you’re currently in, the average district spends $12,007 per student, similar to the nationwide average. You can explore further or search for a district by name below.
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