Monday, May 4, 2015

The Slow Downward Spiral (Boston Public Schools)

*This post was updated on May 6, 2015. See notes at the bottom of the post.

I did some number crunching this morning. I start to wonder about things... and then I can't seem to let it go. Last week it was about the possibility of Boston Charter School enrollment fraud. By coincidence the Washington Post also ran a piece last week about charter fraud - that included enrollment fraud. 

But today I was wondering about the resource drain of, the financial impact of, Boston's Public Schools having lost 8,500 students to charter schools. 

It's interesting.

If you were to walk into a BPS classroom, I doubt you would notice the enrollment difference that losing all these kids to Charter schools has made. In a classroom, it's 2.6 kids. The Charter Schools enrollment of 8,500 means, on average, 2.6 less kids per BPS classroom

The thing is, that negligible 2.6 children per classroom translates to, on average, $979,492.00 less that the average BPS school receives in funding ($38,113.00 per classroom) than they would if they hadn't lost those 2.6 children.

The real problems for the public schools come from the fact that it's such a such a small number of students that have left each classroom. A school can't consolidate classrooms if two rooms have lost a combined total of 5.2 kids. A school can't let a teachers go because a classroom is down by 2.6 kids. The same goes for virtually all of the costs of operating the school. At a loss of 2.6 kids a classroom, the costs are still firmly fixed. The only thing that changes is that the school now has $979,492.00 less funding to somehow try and provide the same level of (or improved?) instruction. 

Regardless of how you feel about Charter Schools, the one thing I can guarantee that they have accomplished is setting into motion a vicious downward spiraling of Boston's Traditional Public Schools. 

With BPS schools now forced to try and educate with (on average) $979,492.00 less per school, something has to give and it's happening, right now. Boston Public Schools are cutting every position they can, all levels of service, from mental health to food, and asking for funding on DonorsChoose - for pencils

My daughters "highest poverty" school has been somewhat able to somewhat hold it together by fundraising $45,000 this year - but you see that DonorsChoose link above asking for pencils, that's us. 

Somehow our school was 5th in growth in the state last year, out of 1,930 Massachusetts schools, in English Language Arts. Somehow the kids haven't noticed that there's no extra paper to draw on, that the adults in the classrooms are now mostly college interns, that we have no gymnasium, no library and no auditorium. Somehow they're really happy and somehow they're really learning. I just can't help but wonder how amazing this school could be with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of more dollars a year - and I can't help but think about the schools that are facing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of less funding next year. How are they going to survive? How are they going to improve? 

We need real answers, and we need them now. The two things I know that we don't need more of are more charter schools and outside organizations - syphoning off further precious dollars from BPS. 

If we really want all children to receive a good education, we should look at what's been done in the past to bring an under preforming school up to a level 1 - as in, what's been successful, what resources did that accomplishment take. Then we need to find the revenue to provide those resources and then apply them across the board. That's assuming we're really serious about improving public schools, which as time goes by, with my first hand witnessing of the systematic de-funding of the traditional public schools and the enormous push for even more of that, I'm no longer convinced that improving public education is what this is really all about.

John Lerner - BPS Dad and member of the Boston Educational Justice Alliance

*This blog post was updated with more accurate numbers, provided by DESE Commisioner Mitchell Chester, on May 6th, 2015. My original number of 7,800 charter students has been changed to
8,500. That change brought the loss of students per classroom average up to 2.6, from 2.5 It also brought the average tuition lost per school up to $979,492.00, from $899,750.00