Facts on district revenue and per-pupil spending

In past articles, we’ve shown you how much money we get and where it all goes.

Our community deserves an honest dialogue – without ideology and special interest talking points – about school funding that includes a fair assessment of needs, expenses, and revenue.

So let’s talk for a moment about where money comes from and under what circumstances we get more of it.

Where does revenue come from?

About a third of our operating budget comes from the State of Tennessee. They give us a certain amount of money per student and according to what kind of student. When more students enroll, our revenue from the state goes up, to the tune of about $3,200 per student.

The other two-thirds comes from the Metro Government, paid from county taxes and allocated by the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council. The amount of money we get from the Metro Government is fixed. It is not tied to a per-student formula the way state money is.

This year our enrollment is up by nearly 1,800 students. About a third of our revenue (from the state) reflected that increase. The other two-thirds of our revenue (from the Metro Government) remained flat.

[NOTE: We received a $26 million increase in our operating budget from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Of this $26 million, $12 million came from our own fund balance, $10 million came from the state and $4 million came from Metro Government.]

How does that money move around the district?

It’s a phrase people use a lot: per-pupil spending. Metro Schools spends around $9,100 per pupil in grades K-12. When a student moves from one school to another, the money theoretically follows him.

If the student leaves his neighborhood school and moves into a magnet school, he is moving from one district-operated school to another. The money attached to him stays in the same pot of district money and our per-pupil spending amount stays the same.

When a student leaves his neighborhood school – or a magnet school – for a charter school, the $9,100 moves to the charter management organization that runs the charter.

When a student leaves a district school for a private school, the money does not follow him to the private school. The district loses the state revenue associated with that student, but the private school does not get it. The funding from Metro Government is unchanged. The private school gets private money in the form of tuition.

The expenses of the neighborhood school don’t increase with every additional student and don’t decline with every student departure. The school is spending the same amount to keep its lights on and its hallways clean. The school still has teachers to pay and technology to buy and maintain.

Innovative practices that are designed to quickly improve achievement could face tough times, like extended learning time, model classrooms and certain kinds of school-level professional development.

What’s the solution?

Our strategic plan calls for more equitable use of resources, placing money where it’s needed most for fair service of students. We are already moving toward a model that puts more money directly in the hands of principals, allowing them to spend money in ways that will most directly benefit the unique needs of their students. That will help everyone decide best allocation of existing resources and ensure that money is spent in the most effective ways.

But what about revenue?

The answer will come from a community discussion of school finances. We must have an honest and open dialogue about revenue and expenses. The Board of Education began that conversation this fall, well in advance of the usual budget cycle.

This issue has wide-reaching effects, beyond just budgeting and buying textbooks. It can affect a school’s character and existence.

Let’s look at it at the individual school level. When a school is constantly threatened with drastic budget cuts or even closure, it has a more difficult time attracting students, which leads to further budget reductions.

It is a cycle that puts even more of a burden on teachers and principals to properly educate the students they already have.

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