$800 million is not enough for Boston public schools?

$800 million is not enough for Boston public schools?

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Parents of students in Boston public schools are protesting plans to bypass the city’s school system when handing out federal “stimulus” funds. They claim the schools are underfunded:

Parents spoke of how their kids’ schools, already depleted of arts teachers and librarians and lacking modern facilities, will be further crippled by the $812 million budget that the Boston School Committee approved Wednesday. The package calls for eliminating 536 education positions, including 212 classroom jobs (134 teachers and 78 teacher aides).

So, they’re spending more than three-quarters of a billion dollars and they’re talking about cutbacks and how it “cripples” the students’ education. How much should we spending? What are we spending all that money on? And yes, even though I don’t live in the city of Boston, I said “we”: the city school system—like all public school systems in Massachusetts—receives an enormous amount of money from the commonwealth.

The Boston public school system has 56,000 students. That means they spend $14,500 per student each year. In 2006, the average per-pupil spending in the United States was $8,287. Massachusetts spent the third most of any state at $10,693. Yet Boston spends $14,500 and that’s not nearly enough! In national achievement and accountability assessment, Boston falls short of the standard in nearly every category.

Parents say the schools are falling apart, the athletic fields are crummy, the textbooks are old. Let’s set aside the fact that Massachusetts has had an unprecedented boom in school construction in the past decade or so—maybe Boston has been left out of that a little—where has all the money gone?

Back in 1994, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby identified the culprit: “In the Boston system, 40 percent of the budget never gets to the classroom; it is absorbed by the School Department bureaucracy.” If you look at this story about 2008’s budget woes for the school district, you get the sense that the percentage never improved: The fact that there are 80 unfilled jobs in the bureaucracy available to be cut indicates how much bloat there really is in the system.

(On a side note, in 1996 Boston Mayor Tom Menino called school reform his top priority and said in his January 17 State of the City address: “I want to be judged as your mayor by what happens now in the Boston Public Schools. I expect you to hold me accountable. … If I fail, judge me harshly.” The schools are still a mess more than a decade later. Voters have never held him accountable.)

What we see here is that government is the worst entity for educating our children because in an environment without accountability and a free rein to dump money on cronies and pet projects and ideological indoctrination, actual education suffers. It also shows that the standard metric of per-pupil spending is meaningless when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of schools. Yet spending money is about the only tool most politicians have.

Which is yet another reason we’re going to homeschool our kids. I just wish I wasn’t wasting my taxes on schools that don’t educate other peoples’ kids.

Photo credit: Flickr user kevindooley. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
6 comments
  • My 12+ years in public school showed me that there is nothing more useless and overpaid than a public school administrator.  That is absolutely where the bulk of wasted school funds go, although there are other abuses of the public coffers too.

    In a just world, you would get a tax break for homeschooling your kids and saving other taxpayers upwards of ten grand a year.  Heck, if the state were handing out ten grand apiece to homeschooling parents, more parents could afford to stay home with their kids.  Massachusetts students would probably be better educated and less likely to be exposed to drugs.  Not to mention happier.

  • Oh, the educating I could do with $14,500!  When I think of tangible educational items (including books) I doubt that I’ve spent $14,500 in the eight+ years I’ve been educating my youngest son.  I even wonder if I’ve spent $14,500 on all of our children’s varying years of home education.

  • I was speaking with my mother on the subject of where the money was going in our schools. She suggested that schools especially with ‘at risk’ students need to focus solely on the MCAS subjects. But still even with the non-risk students, why is it everyone else’s obligation to fund their talents. She wasn’t knocking down gifted students, but rather extra curricula activities be a part of private entities, much like dance studios and martial arts, programs that are not funded by the school systems.

    Every child has the right to be educated, but that’s it.

  • of course, a lot of money goes into special education in Boston, some of it for kids who don’t live in the city, but are routed that way so that they can get the services that a big city can provide.

    and actually, Boston’s share of state funds for education is far less than most big cities in the state, like Springfield and Worcester, who get more than 50% of their funds from the state.  In Boston, it’s more like 28 or 29%, in spite of the fact that Boston generates one of four tax dollars for the state.  Give us our money back, and stop subsidizing the suburbs!

  • This doesn’t shock me one bit. The same problem exists with the DC public school system.

  • I pulled my child from one of our states “best” school systems when she was utterly falling through the cracks and 3 full grade levels behind in math.  That was 3 years ago.  Last year, I let her sit for the state exams, and she blew. them. away. 
    That was a child for whom I was called into the school and advised she was “learning disabled,” and they then offered that there was nothing they could do because she didn’t qualify for state aid. 
    So, I did it myself, on my dime, quitting my job, and now I’m in debt, but no where near to the tune of 14,500.

    Until the state gives up its monopoly, I’ll never vote for another levy or believe they have our children’s best interests at heart.  Many individual teachers are quite good, but the system doesn’t love our children as we do.

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