August 24, 2006

AFTies Obfuscate

I almost broke down in tears when I read this heart-wrenching post over at the AFT blog.
I posted awhile back about TABOR, the spending limitation that may be on the ballot in several states this year. When this idea was floated earlier in Pennsylvania, the state's budget office estimated that if TABOR had passed in 2002, that by 2005-06 the state budget would be 9 percent lower. To get some perspective on this, the school district of Philadelphia was budgeted in 2005-06 to receive $1.139 billion in state aid. A 9 percent reduction is a loss of $104 million.
There they go again, those fat cat bureaucrats cutting school budgets again. It's a crying shame.

But on my way to the tissue box, I realized that although AFTie Ed was claiming to give me "some perspective" on the 9% reduction in state aid that the Philly School District might have to endure under TABOR-like spending limitations, I still didn't understand what was going on behind all those big meaningless numbers.

As Homer Simpson once said, "I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals FLAMING!" And I like my school spending numbers on a per pupil basis; otherwise they don't make sense and you can't gain any sense of perspective.

A 9% reduction in state aid represents a 5.35% cut in total budget. According to Schoolmatters, the Philly School District spend a whopping $12,761 per student back in 2004. A 5.35% cut would have brought them down to $12,078. That year, the average school in PA, spent only $11,294 per student. So even with the cuts, the Philly school district would have been $784 above the average.

Of course, those figures come from 2004 and need to be inflated to 2006 levels. Let's be conservative and say a few percent each year and quick as a wink we're back to about $13,000 per pupil.

No matter how you cut it, even with the potential reduction, there's no getting around the fact that the Philly school district's spends an awful lot of money educating -- or more accurately failing to educate, its students. This isn't Dickens, guv'nor.

So when AFTie Ed says:
And it's important to remember that in each additional year there would likely to be more tough decisions as a result of this initiative.
I'm thinking you only get to $13k per student by failing to have made a lot of tough decisions over the course of many years. There's plenty of fat that could be cut before we get remotely close to "tough."

I wish I had a picture of the palatial building in which the school district administration meets to show you the kind of extravagant waste that exemplifies the Philly school district and which is choking Aftie Ed up just contemplating the potential of cutting.

But, that's why I like per pupil spending so much. Anyone reading the per student figures immediately understands the magnitude of the numbers. In this case you see that not only is the Philly school district spending higher than average even with the cuts, but the raw amount of spending, $13k per student, is high by any reasonable standard. It also makes statements like this:
When people think about spending limits, there is an assumption that belt tightening can happen without consequences. It isn't so.
come off a tad bit melodramatic, bordering on silly. And, that is the advantage of gaining the proper perspective. And, no doubt why AFTie Ed didn't tell you the per pupil figures up front.


Anonymous said...

And here's what you probably don't know (unless you live in Pennsylvania). School boards have the power here to demand, allocate, and spend money. The local scandal at the moment is the school board that wants to spend millions of dollars to tear down the ten year-old high school so they can build a new, "state of the art" high school.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that may be common. All I know is that when we moved here from Indiana, I was jolted. Indiana school board have no such power.

KDeRosa said...

I do live in PA. Swarthmore to be precise.

PA school boards do have much power. So much for the local control argument.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, I like to use "per classroom" as well as "per pupil" numbers. In California this year, the state budget allocates about $10K per K-12 student. I find that telling people that this means that we are spending a quarter of a million dollars per classroom (assuming 25 kids per classroom, which seems about right) has more effect than $10K per student.

I think this is because one classroom pretty much equals one teacher and so we get $250,000 per teacher, but everyone "knows" that teachers are underpaid. Well they aren't underpaid at $250,000 per year. The average California teacher gets about $55K/year in salary. Add in some generous benefits and it still looks like $250,000 per out to be enough to pay for a quality education.

Per-student numbers don't easily allow this sort of "obvious" conclusion.

-Mark Roulo

KDeRosa said...

I agree, Mark. I'm an even bigger fan of per classroom figure reporting, but the post was getting a little longish. I'm glad you made the point, saving me the effort.

I especially like what CA rep Tom McClintock did with per classrom funding in this op-ed

Anonymous said...

In Indiana (and Kentucky, and every other state I know of, except here) you either live in town or you don't. You're represented by either both the city and county governments, or just the county government. It took me a couple of months to figure out local government here -- we have townships in Indiana, but they are not in any way governmental, they just determine which fire dept puts out your fire. And the whole time I was trying to figure it out, I was also trying to figure out why State College was booming with development while Bloomington (IN) stifles all development, and is nearly dead economically.

It was obvious once I figured out local government here. The Bloomington City Council has all of the power over all development in Bloomington, and being a college town (like State College), the council is a bunch of moonbats that make Nader look like Buchanan (that's only a slight exaggeration).

Only a very small part of State College, at the center, is State College borough. Most of State College is pieces of other GOP, conservative townships. And that's where State College is booming.

So now that I get it, I like it. But I don't think school boards should have the power to spend money. Now, if we can just get PA to become a right to work state ...

KDeRosa said...

You haven't seen moonbats until you've seen the moonbats in the people's republic of Swarthmore. We are an incorporated borough, so we are our own political entity. Not that long ago we trended Rpublican. Last election it was 90% Democrat, about the same as Philadelphia.

Anonymous said...

The State College Borough supervisors are as nutso-batso leftwing as it gets, of course, that being the part of town where the university is. But the surrounding townships? Solid GOP.

So I ran across some Rendell program the other day where you can pay a bunch of money and take "courses" then get a job with the state. Hmmm. What would it be like to have a job where you got to spend other peoples' money?