University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Does Your District Look Like a Million Bucks?

In The View from the OEP on July 30, 2012 at 9:59 am

The OEP launched its latest database today: 2010-11 Financial Data at the District Level.  We compiled several sources to present a comprehensive picture of the finances in each of the state’s school districts.  While our other databases focus on student achievement in schools and districts across the state, this database will shift the focus towards how that education is funded.

Much of this data comes from the ADE Annual Statistical Report, which gives a comprehensive view of district’s finances.  Also, data on teacher pay is included for each district, which shows the salary levels at different steps on the pay scale for all districts across the state.  Click here for the source of these data. While there is more data here than can easily be digested in one sitting, we tried to group together what we saw as the most interesting parts of the database.  These include the base salary for new teachers in each district, how much the districts spend on a per pupil basis, and the local millage levied in each district.

As we have done with many of our newest student performance databases, we include our similar districts grouping in this database.  This works by creating groups of small, medium, and large student enrollment districts, and also by low, medium, and high poverty levels, as measured by the percentage of students who receive free or reduced price lunch.  When this grouping is used, it allows for “apples to apples” comparisons (to an extent).  Small sized, medium poverty districts are compared to districts of a similar demographic.

Just to give an example, consider the Lincoln School District, which is a thirty minute drive west of us here at the University of Arkansas.  This is a medium-sized district that also falls into the mid-poverty range.  So, we compare Lincoln to other districts in that same grouping (2.2):

  •  Lincoln School District pays teachers with a bachelor’s degree and zero years of teaching experience $34,000, $2,424 higher than districts of similar size and poverty levels.
  • As for total expenditures on a per student basis, the Lincoln School District spent $13,111 per student during the 2010-2011 year, which is $2,217 more per student than other similar districts.
  • When we only consider spending that is used for educational spending within the given year, we see that Lincoln School District’s Net Current Expenditures is actually very close to their similar district grouping average, coming eleven dollars below the average.
  • The Lincoln School District maintains a millage rate of 42.7.  This is 5.64 higher than the average for similar districts.  Keep in mind that the state minimum is 25.00 for maintenance and operations.

So, overall, we get a better picture of how Lincoln compares to similar districts around the state, rather than comparing them to the much larger districts in the Northwest Arkansas Region.  We should note that these finance numbers are not as clear as our student performance databases, because higher numbers do not always represent better outcomes.  On a test, scoring higher obviously is better than a low score.  However, in the world of educational finance, these relationships are not as certain.  Higher spending or lower spending do not guarantee better educational outcomes, nor do higher or lower millage rates.

We want this database to be a resource to any who are curious about educational spending within our state.  Within this database, we have provided an executive summary, or an easily-printable spreadsheet as soon as you click on this database. On the next tab, however, we have a far more comprehensive set of figures for those who prefer to download the spreadsheets and conduct your own analyses. Along with the data, we include a key for all of the variables that we have included from the various sources.  In the last sheet, we use our similar districts groups to create a simple table to summarize and organize the averages for each grouping.

As always, we invite your comments and suggestions for this database and for any way we might be of use in the future.  Please leave your comments and thoughts about this database.  We look forward to providing more helpful information as this new school year starts.

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