New DCPS budget approaches $29,000 per student

The school choice movement lost a hero recently when the CATO Institute’s Andrew Coulson died on February 7, 2016 at age 48 after a 15 month fight with brain cancer.  He was a fierce advocate of allowing parents to make the decision over the private or public school their children should attend, favoring tax credit funded scholarships for kids over vouchers as a means of keeping government out of the education business.

I did not know Mr. Coulson.  However, we did communicate by email several times during his many years as director of CATO’s Center for Educational Freedom.  His major accomplishment from my point of view was his groundbreaking revelation of what it really costs to teach pupils in our traditional public schools.

Mr. Coulson explained that when making this calculation all expenses need to be taken into account such as employee retirement plans and capital construction costs, funds that are many times excluded in this type of financial analysis.  For example, way back in 2008, he revealed that while D.C.’s Uniform Per Student Funding Formula amount was $8,322, the actual expense was $25,000 a kid once his methodology was taken into account.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein writes today that Chancellor Kaya Henderson has requested a $910 million fiscal year 2017 budget.  Utilizing Mr. Coulson’s math, and doing some back-of-the-envelope estimations, if Ms. Henderson’s receives the money she is asking for DCPS will allocate about $29,000 annually for every enrolled child.  This is a quantity, Mr. Coulson would assert, equal to about the yearly tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school where President Obama sends his children.

For this amount of public money, and after 20 years of public school reform, we have student proficiency rates in reading and math at 25 percent, a statistic significantly lower for those living in poverty.  I can now hear Mr. Coulson proclaiming loudly, “Isn’t it about time we tried something new?”

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