Financial figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau presented a ranking of per-pupil spending by the largest public school districts in the nation in the 2009-10 school year. In that ranking, Milwaukee Public Schools was listed as fourth in how much it spent, at approximately $14,000 per student.
Questions remain as to how the critical factors that affect MPS spending compare to that of the other large districts. District administrators have asked how MPS’ large (almost 20%) special education population compares with other districts in the top rankings. Students with special needs are more costly to educate. A district in a high poverty city also receives more Title 1 funding and Milwaukee had the fourth-highest poverty rate in the nation in 2010. More than 80% of MPS students live at a poverty rate that qualifies for free or reduced price lunch. It is also unclear whether the numbers include MPS’ extension budget – which funds fee-for-service recreation programs open to all Milwaukee residents.
This ranking looks only at the nation’s largest 50 school districts, and does not compare MPS to any suburban or other school districts in Wisconsin. But the U.S. Census report released today did include per-pupil funding for all districts in Wisconsin, including one Wisconsin school district spending nearly $32,000 per pupil and a few spending more than $20,000 per student. Using the Census data, MPS is not in the top 20 for per-pupil spending in Wisconsin. It is ranked 27th.
“We are focused a lot more on continuing to move students forward and control our costs than on three-year-old Census data that doesn’t compare us to any districts in our home state,” said MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton.
Here are the Wisconsin districts that spent more than MPS did to educate each student in 2009-10, according to the Census data: Norris, Lac Du Flambeau, Bayfield, Washington Island, Phelps, Boulder Junction, Menominee Indian, Mercer, Weyerhauser Area, Nicolet, South Shore, Green lake, Gibraltar Area, Maple Dale-Indian Hill, Goodman Armstrong, Potosoi Joint, Lakeland Union High Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine, Wonewoc Union, Big Foot, Florence, Minocqua Joint, Elcho Joint, Cassville, Black Hawk and Norway Town Joint School District Number 2.
Finally, it is important to point out that the data cited is old data. These are financial figures from the 2009-10 school year, prior to the roughly $160 million cut MPS was dealt over two years in the state budget, compared to prior law. It does not reflect the School Board’s negotiated health care contributions in 2010 contracts, and the high health and pension contributions that take effect once existing contracts expire. “The bottom line is that we have taken aggressive steps to cut our costs and get more funding to our students,” said Dr. Thornton. “In addition to steps to curtail employee costs, we rebid transportation contracts, have moved forward with a central kitchen and have used the Six Sigma model to find efficiencies in areas such as textbook management. I will put those efforts up against those of any large district.”