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Correction: D.C. Schools Not Richer Than God

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is new to Washington, but he's wasted no time perpetuating the canard that the underachieving District school system is flush with cash.

"D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous," Duncan said in a March 4 visit with Post editors and reporters.

But a recent study shows that D.C., ranked against the 50 states, is 13th in per-pupil expenditures ($11,193), placing it behind Vermont, Wyoming, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, Alaska, Connecticut, Montana, Massachusetts, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The January study by EPE Research Center, a division of the nonprofit that publishes Education Week, used Department of Education data from 2005-06 (the latest year available) and adjusted for regional cost differences. It found the national average was $9,963.

Closer to home, a 2007 study by school budget watchdog Mary Levy concluded that DCPS spent almost $4,000 less per pupil than Alexandria, $3,500 less than Arlington County, and about $1,500 more than Fairfax County.

This was news to Duncan.

"That's good to know," he said today as he made his first official visit to a D.C. public school, Amidon-Bowen Elementary on I Street near the Southwest waterfront. Joined by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and D.C. State Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist, Duncan read to the grade schoolers ("Reading Makes You Feel Good," by Todd Parr) and took a few questions, including this from a little boy:

"What are you good at?"

Duncan's complete answer wasn't audible over the wave of laughter. He ended by saying, "Every day I try to get a little better."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  March 18, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Thank you Bill!

Posted by: qaz2 | March 18, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad that Arne Duncan corrected his mistake. However, he and President Obama seem determined to continue with the disastrous test-prep mentality that President Bush embraced, and then codified in NCLB. I don't fault people of means who choose to send their children to one of the many child-centered private schools in the greater Washington Metropolitan area. But is it fair that children in the public schools are denied this kind of education in favor of low level drill and test prep? Mr. Duncan, are you aware that the track and test-prep mentally has now reached the kindergarten levels in the public schools? You probably don't know because you have never taught in the public schools. Too bad.

Posted by: Bluestategirl | March 18, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Mr. Turque hasn't quite done all his homework. While the cash spent per student may not rank #1 in the country right now, how did the school board/chancellor/principal's salaries rank for the 10 yrs. preceding Madame Rhee's tenure? I believe we had one of the highest, if not THE highest, administrative-salary-to-pupil ratios in the country. And, sadly, one of the lowest, if not THE lowest, student graduation/success rates.
grade: C-

Posted by: HarpoDC | March 18, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

CORRECTION: Mme. Rhee is our first chancellor; previously that position was titled "superintendent".

Posted by: HarpoDC | March 18, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

I liked the question of the student. Rhee should have been asked that question and we would never have been so bothered.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 18, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan felt absolutely comfortable, after years of lies unchallenged by any media in Chicago, to share the same kind of drivel about the D.C. schools. He is one shocked corporate lapdog that one of his lazy tired throwaway lines has been labeled a "canard" by you Mr. Turque.

Posted by: natturner | March 18, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

$11,000 times 46,000 equals $506,000,000. What is the DCPS budget? Is it more than $506m? Is it more like double that? What support to DCPS is off the school budget books? If you did some investigative reporting what do you think you would find out? Would you still say the DCPS per pupil expenditure is $11,000?

Posted by: jy151310 | March 18, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

So having a higher per-pupil budget than 37 states -- and Fairfax county -- doesn't constitute being "flush with cash"?

His point, which stands, is that the 13th-highest per-pupil funding in the nation should produce better outcomes than the past outcomes in DC, which are, indeed, disastrous.

As the Post series showed, the school district was basically run for the benefit of its mediocre but politically powerful employees, like so many other inner-city institutions.

Posted by: BenjaminL | March 19, 2009 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Uh, I agree with BenL: Fairfax county is one of the top school districts in the entire United States.

If DC spends nearly $2,000 more per pupil than FFX, is is absolutely correct to say they are richer than God. 13th in spending is STILL very high.

Posted by: rhadamanthus | March 19, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Here's to hoping Secretary Duncan didn't fall for any of Rhee's hype. That would make him good at analyzing people!

Hopefully he could see through her ACT of being polite to the same people she threatens to fire on a daily basis.

Posted by: southyrndiva | March 19, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Southyrn, you're mistaking "professional" for "polite."

Rhee is professional in her dealings with the school system, but that doesn't mean people can't get fired.

And frankly, I'm surprised anyone would have a problem with how she's trying to fix the schools - they're a joke around the country, everyone knows it, and finally someone comes along to make a change - any change! - and we're upset because she's firing teachers.

Unless you (meaning, one) are a teacher who's job is on the line (and given the results of DC students, it should be), I don't see why you'd care.

Posted by: nagatuki | March 19, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Where do they find these misinformed people to be in charge of large government offices?!

Posted by: undercover_hon | March 19, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

"I believe we had one of the highest, if not THE highest, administrative-salary-to-pupil ratios in the country."

Two points: first, DC has one of the largest poverty problems in any school district. This is because the District has become--over the last half-century--the dumping ground for the social ills of the suburbs in the region. Poverty is expensive.

Secondly, the District school system is not part of a larger state school system. The county school systems in VA and MD exists within the matrix of their state systems. The District is the only school system in the country that must serve both state and county roles.

Any discussion of "per pupil" that starts from an ignorance of these two factors is meaningless.

Posted by: icoleman | March 19, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Drill and test prep has always been part of the "private school" educational experience. So it's good that the public schools re-introduced this element to the curriculum, regardless of the motivation behind its re-introduction.

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | March 19, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

"What is the DCPS budget? Is it more than $506m? Is it more like double that? What support to DCPS is off the school budget books? If you did some investigative reporting what do you think you would find out? Would you still say the DCPS per pupil expenditure is $11,000?"

This doesn't take much investigation. To answer your questions in order: 1) The budget is $773 million. 2) Yes. 3) No. 4) It depends on how you define "support". Are sidewalk repairs adjacent to the school "support"? Are EMT/police calls to schools support? You see it would be hard to quantify without a definition of "support". 5) I think Bill would find out more, not necessarilty relevant, information, but this is true of all investigative reporting. But at what cost? Would he lose other relevant DCPS stories by focusing every ounce of energy on budget issues? 6) I'm not Bill, but I think the answer has to be no. The figure is more like $13K. But that doesn't include expenditures on them for the "support" those students might receive.

The DC budget is $8.6 billion, and with a population of 591,833, we can say that DC spends $14,531 per person on average.

Posted by: prokaryote | March 19, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The National Center for Educational Statistics says that per-pupil spending in D.C. was $13,446 in 2005-2006, the highest in the Continental U.S. So how does EPE come up with a number that's $2300 lower?

Posted by: CrimsonWife | March 19, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks CrimsonWife, the $13k number was what I always understood was true. I never heard the $11k number and don't believe the number is correct. I believe Bill Turque knowingly printed a falsehood and I will forward this blog posting to the Washington Post ombudsman for review.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 19, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Editorial Projects in Education Research Center takes the $13,466 annual per-pupil figure and adjusts it for the local cost of living (which Bill Turque notes). There are advantages and disadvantages with doing this.

But what about the $13,446 figure? Andrew Coulson gathers the numbers, adds them up, and finds that it is really $26,555 per pupil.
See my 'Ed Policy' blog post on this:

Posted by: BillEvers | March 22, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

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