Paying for a Quality Education

March 27, 2011

I keep trying to figure out why we are paying so much in local property taxes to support K-12 public education across New York State while our results are mediocre, at best.

I’ve spent countless hours combing through data from the NYS Department of Education (http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/) looking for some sort of closure.

Lots of data, not easy to interpret or digest.

What I have learned is that our eventual outcomes (HS graduation rates) across NYS are pretty awful. 

Back when the Walrus was a pup, they used to tell us how fortunate we were to be growing up in New York, where we had real quality public education.  They would tell us that children growing up in the South were at a real disadvantage.

Apparently, that is no longer true.  Recent data from the National Center for Educational Statistics show that less than 70% of New York State high school students actually graduate.

We are doing better than South Carolina, and we are in a dead heat with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama.  Meanwhile, Arkansas and Virginia are kicking our butts.

Why should we care?  On average, we are spending close to $20,000 per pupil for each of the 3 Million students in New York.

State Grad Rate Per Pupil Spending
Vermont 88.6% $14,300
New Jersey 84.4% $16,491
Connecticut 81.8% $13,848
Virginia 75.5% $10,659
Arkansas 74.4% $8,541
New York 68.8% $17,173
North Carolina 68.6% $7,996
Alabama 67.1% $9,103
Florida 65.0% $9,035
Georgia 64.1% $9,788
South Carolina 58.9% $9,170

Why are we in such dire straits?  Is it teacher salaries?  Probably not.

There are 2 very clear issues that have driven our K-12 public education spending way over the top.

First is the cost of Special Education.  Urban districts in NYS typically have 15% of their students in an “Individual Education Plan” – IEP– , and they are paying about three times as much to educate IEP students as they pay for general education students.

Second is the sheer number of school districts in NYS.  The majority of efficient states have large, regional school districts where they are able to take advantage of ‘economies of scale’ – spreading the cost of administration over a very broad base. 

We have over 700 school districts in New York, each with its own administration building, Superintendent, various Deputy Superintendents, and all of the infrastructure needed to run an independent business. 

The structure of public education in NYS no doubt made sense in 1904 when it was last defined. 

Isn’t it time for an independent commission to review how we manage K-12 public education and to make some recommendations in the area of efficiency?

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