By Bill Robinson
A conservative Kentucky think tank on Monday ranked Madison County 49th and Berea Independent 60th in spending efficiency among the state’s 169 school districts.
The rankings, by the Bluegrass Institute, are based on the ratio of school-district ACT test scores and per-pupil spending.
The study is titled “Bang for the Buck 2012: How efficient are Kentucky’s schools?” and also notes the percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price school meals.
According to the study, Madison County spent $10,044 per pupil in 2011 and had an average ACT score of 19. The district’s average daily attendance was 9,920, with 49 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals.
The average ACT score in the Berea district, 20.1, was slightly higher than the county’s, but it spent $10,942 per pupil.
Berea’s average daily attendance last year was 972, less than a tenth of the county’s size.
A higher percentage of Berea students, 60 percent, qualified for free or reduced-priced meals.
Free and reduced-priced meals go to students from families whose income is below federal guidelines.
Of the counties surrounding Madison, only Clark County at 27th outranked both Madison County and Berea. Clark County spent $9,281 per pupil and had an average ACT score of 18.9, slightly below their neighbors.
Jessamine County, at 51st, came in ahead of Berea. It spent $9,638 per pupil with an average ACT score of 19.4.
Other districts, their rankings, per-pupil spending and average ACT scores include:
• Fayette, 72nd, $12,032, 20.1
• Rockcastle, 89th, $9,292, 18.2
• Estill, 94th, 9,541, 18.2
• Jackson, 147th, $11,572, 17.6
• Garrard, 155th, $12,608, 17.9
The results prove the answer to providing a quality education is not just more tax dollars, but in making better use of available resources, said Richard G. Innes, who authored the report.
“It adds more evidence that poverty is no excuse for failing to adequately prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century marketplace.”
Some of the top-ranking districts had above-average test scores and below-average family income while spending less per pupil than some districts that ranked far below them.
For example, the Harlan Independent School District was ranked second in efficiency. Its average ACT score was 20.9 while its spent $8,639 per student, 53 percent of whom qualified for free or reduced-priced school meals.
Barbourville Independent, ranked fourth-most efficient district, got above-average test scores, 19.1, with well below average funding, $8,238, despite a school-lunch rate, 60 percent, that is higher than the statewide average, Innes noted.
“Student poverty clearly does not stand in the way of efficiency in Harlan and Barbourville,” he said. “They show what can be done.”
The study listed four “Diamond in the Rough” school districts that “give taxpayers above-average bang for their education bucks despite above-average poverty rates.”
Those districts, Graves County, Eminence Independent (Henry County), LaRue County and Mason County, each posted efficiency scores for 2011 at least 10 percent better than the state average although their student lunch eligibility rates equal or exceed the state average. They also surpassed the average ACT score for all districts by at least half a point and posted better-than-average high school graduation rates in 2010 as well.
“We hope that all Kentucky superintendents will learn from the excellent model of efficiency provided by these districts,” said Jim Waters, interim president of the Bluegrass Institute. “With the state’s current economic challenges, it behooves our school districts’ leaders to apply these best practices and become more efficient in all aspects of their operations.”
Waters' opinion column often appears on Mondays on the Richmond Register's opinion page.
The complete report can be found online at www.bipps.org.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 624-6690.