In most cases, we should avoid comparing data on schools from two unlike communities. Hopedale and Milford are very different towns and “apples to oranges” comparisons seldom yield useful insights. Expect when we are talking about school choice.
Since Massachusetts gives towns the option to participate in school choice, and both Hopedale and Milford participate, parents in both communities are regularly comparing the two districts and sometimes choose to cross town lines to educate their children. And while school choice data doesn’t tell us where students go when they leave their district and where students leave from when they come into another district, there’s good reason to believe that most school choice transfers move between geographically bordering communities. So, it stands to reason that most inter-district student flows in and out of Hopedale involve Milford in one direction or the other.
Let’s start at the bottom line. School choice is quite good for Hopedale and modestly detrimental to Milford. In 2011, the most recent year for reported district expenditures, Hopedale netted just over $326,000 in school choice tuition. In that same year, Hopedale spent about $13.4 million on schools. In other words, net revenues from school choice amounted to just over 2.4% of all spending on education. That’s a big deal in a small town like Hopedale. It’s an even bigger deal because the numbers are going up. In 2013, Hopedale will net just over $460,000 in school choice tuition.
As for Milford, the school choice totals are much smaller and the overall budget is much bigger. While Milford lost almost $153,000 in school choice tuition in 2011, that amounted to only 0.29% of all spending on education in Milford. The trend for Milford, however, is going in the wrong direction. In this year (2013), Milford’s net loss on school choice stands at over $315,000, more than double the sum in 2011. While still a small percentage of overall spending on education, no district is in a position to watch $315,000 walk out.
School choice in-flows are not without controversy as incoming students generally elevate class sizes and can appear to compete for scarce resources with a building. Obviously, there are real limits to how many students (and how much revenue) a district can accept without building more classroom space and hiring more teachers. With that said, Hopedale appears to be striking a good balance: maintaining quality schools while reaping the fiscal benefits of school choice.
While that is something to celebrate, we must recognize that school choice is a “zero sum game:” our win is someone else’s loss. While proponents of competition in our public schools see this as the cost of improvement, we should all pause and consider the impacts of losing $315,000 in a district (Milford) where 1 in 4 students qualifies for free lunch (a family of four qualifies for free lunch if their annual income is less than $29,965).
If you want to look into the numbers, you can get data on school choice here and data on school spending in Hopedale here and in Milford here. For quick comparison on how Milford and Hopedale spend on education (along with state averages), here you are:
|Total Exp||% of Total||Per Pupil||Per Pupil (State)|
|Classroom and Specialist Teachers||$19,950,029||$5,118,080||37.68%||38.21%||$4,852||$3,997||$5,027|
|Other Teaching Services||$3,442,132||$1,383,091||6.50%||10.33%||$837||$1,080||$992|
|Instructional Materials, Equipment and Technology||$1,176,696||$400,375||2.22%||2.99%||$286||$313||$424|
|Guidance, Counseling and Testing||$1,666,154||$355,529||3.15%||2.65%||$405||$278||$372|
|Operations and Maintenance||$3,861,955||$836,168||7.29%||6.24%||$939||$653||$1,067|
|Insurance, Retirement Programs and Other||$8,174,993||$2,034,637||15.44%||15.19%||$1,988||$1,589||$2,296|
|Payments To Out-Of-District Schools||$5,920,991||$985,740||11.18%||7.36%||$26,374||$14,913||$20,605|