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Erroneous Beliefs Allow People to “Do Something” While Ignoring the Real Problems of America’s Urban Poor
The fact of the matter is America can and should do better than it does when it comes to our most vulnerable kids.
Last week on the app Nextdoor, a Dublin high school student posted a request for people to donate books for the classroom libraries of a Columbus City Schools elementary school so kids at that school have more reading resources. Without a doubt, I applaud the intention behind the request. Unfortunately, the request is based on erroneous information likely fed to the student by a parent or teacher. The thrust of the request was that the elementary school, “like many of the schools in the Columbus City school district, receives much less funding per student than suburban schools like those in Dublin.” The student correctly pointed out that “literacy rates for students at Broadleigh are much lower than those here in Dublin.” Based on the most recent data, per pupil expenditures at Broadleigh Elementary total a stunning $19,483 and it has an Overall Rating of 3, with Columbus City Schools systemwide per pupil spending at a very impressive $15,372 and an Overall Rating of 2. All data in districts and individual schools can be found here.
How do elementary schools in Dublin City Schools stack up in terms of per pupil spending? According to the latest data, here is the per pupil spending from four of the elementary schools along with the Overall Ratings:
Albert Chapman: $13,351 & 5
Daniel Wright: $13,662 & 3.5
Mary Emma Bailey: $12,964 & 5
Scottish Corners: $13,616 & 4
This data means that Broadleigh Elementary actually spends roughly $6,000 MORE per pupil than at least four of Dublin’s elementary schools, including the elementary school where my three kids went for their K-5 years. For all of Dublin City Schools, the per pupil spending totals $13,367 with an Overall Rating of 4.5, or roughly $2,000 LESS PER PUPIL than Columbus City Schools. This same story can be told about virtually every urban school district compared to their suburban school district peers. The per pupil spending typically is FAR HIGHER in big city school districts than in the suburbs (excluding private schools). Yet, as the test scores consistently show, results aren’t tied to how much money gets spent on the students. Actually, the data would indicate that we should REDUCE per pupil spending if we want to get better results:-)
Thus, contrary to the Dublin high school student’s claim, the problem for the kids at Broadleigh Elementary isn’t a lack of money or, most likely, the presence of books. Rather, the issue is far more problematic and systemic. As Eva Moskowtiz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, recently pointed out:
On average, schools in the United States spend $19,380 per pupil, which is more per child than all but one other developed nation (Luxembourg). Adjusting for inflation, spending grew by 244% between 1970 and 2019.
By 2019, two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency. The average eighth-grade reading score declined in more than half of the states compared with the previous testing year.
Now, here we are in late 2023, post-pandemic, and the outlook is dire: three-quarters of eighth graders are not proficient in math, while 69% are not meeting reading proficiency.
Let me repeat that last point: 75% of America’s eighth graders are NOT PROFICIENT in math and 69% are NOT PROFICIENT in reading DESPITE SPENDING MORE THAN EVERY DEVELOPED COUNTRY BUT ONE. So, as spending per pupil has exploded in America, test scores have declined or, at best, remained stagnant.
For years I have talked about this issue as the “4:00pm-to-8:00am Problem;” meaning, no matter how much money we spend and how amazing the teachers are for kids while they are at school from 8:00am-to-4:00pm, we cannot undo the deficits created before they showed up for kindergarten and the damage done in the hours they are not at school. These problems include:
Failure by parents to read to their kids up until they start kindergarten;
Too much screen time;
Too little sleep;
Too much exposure to unsafe or chaotic environments; and
Too few healthy meals with the right balance of proteins, carbs, veggies, and fruits.
As the chart shows, these problems are largely non-existent in the suburban districts—though the prevalence of smartphones is certainly driving up the amount of screen time among all kids. The fact of the matter is America can and should do better than it does when it comes to our most vulnerable kids, which is why I made this issue one of my core planks when exploring my run for Ohio Governor. Instead of pouring more money into public schools, we need to allocate resources (people, time, and money) more strategically into improving the 4:00pm-to-8:00am issues listed above that make whatever happens at school like putting a bandage on a bullet hole. We also need to adopt true universal school choice in which 100% of state funds follows every child no matter where that child gets educated.
Thus, sending a bunch of books certainly won’t hurt the kids at Broadleigh Elementary and will make for a great college essay, but it won’t make so much as a scratch on the issues resulting in such inequitable outcomes for Ohio’s most vulnerable kids.