June 28, 2009

Private School as Money Saver

Justin Katz

Think about this, from amidst the continuing saga of the West Warwick school budget:

After one resident learned that it costs about $15,000 to educate each child in West Warwick, she suggested that the town simply send its students to private Catholic schools. [Town Council Member Angelo] Padula quickly agreed, saying, "If we sent 200 children to a private school, Prout is $9,500. LaSalle is $9,800. We would save $6,000 per child."

For those who've learned under new math techniques (or do not have a calculator handy), $6,000 times 200 children is $1.2 million. As a bonus, with those millions of dollars in savings, Rhode Island private school students on average score 200 points higher on the SATs than their public-school peers.

(Yeah, I'm aware of the arguments about demographics. Just sayin'...)

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Or why not just privatize? Call up Prout or LaSalle and ask them if they want to set up a satellite campus in West Warwick. Pay them their rate and go for it from there. Bring in their management, start over and let them run it at their price in the current WW schools. Win-win.

Posted by: Patrick at June 28, 2009 6:22 PM

But what do you do about the hammer? The one that private schools, including Catholic, hold over their students and parents/guardians? The power of the hammer is that the school gets to determine if you are in or out of their school.

Posted by: David at June 28, 2009 7:29 PM

Worse still, when the Catholic school doesn't take the special needs students and the young boys and girls with especially bad behavior problems, the average costs per pupil shoots to $25,000 per student or more for those left behind. Then again, I suppose we could just reopen the Ladd School.

It's not really challenging to come up with more cost effective plans when you can exclude an entire population of the group that public schools are not allowed to leave behind.

I'm not saying it as an excuse for poor student performance, but it is not really an honest search for a solution.

Then again, sometimes screaming in the night is all we have when confronted with an obstacle like our General ASSembly. Carry on.

Posted by: John at June 28, 2009 8:35 PM

Let the puplic schools focus on the special needs students and free the overachievers to go to the private schools were they can excel.Having the gifted students in the mix with the special needs students doesn't lower the cost of educating the special needs students.

Posted by: Robert at June 28, 2009 9:51 PM

No, it doesn't lower the cost of educating special needs students, it lowers the average cost. Whether you want to hear it or not, the average cost for non-special ed students (General Education Expenditures) is $7,246 per 2008 In$ite data, less than the private schools. Special Education costs are off the charts higher!

Posted by: John at June 28, 2009 10:25 PM


Where, specifically, is that information? As far as I can tell, 2008 In$ite data isn't available yet, and I don't see anything that breaks it out by special ed vs. regular ed. The closest thing I can find to your dollar number is per pupil expenditures on instruction, which is most of the cost, but far from all.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 5:07 AM

For some reason I can't explain, the Infoworks site has 2009 data (2007-2008 school year) while In$ite doesn't have the complete package posted (must be a government thing).

The amount is for General Education expenditures and is listed toward the bottom of the page. I'm sure it doesn't include all costs (transportation and textbooks provided by the LED to public and prvate students) or administrative expenses.

As an aside, I almost gagged when Reps. Gemma and Rice got all bent out of shape over the bus mmonitor bill, saying that the first cut at the district level would be monitors when there are so many other things they can cut, like textbooks! In my fair city, the average amount spent on textbooks over the last five years is less than $40,000 (for 6500 students) and most of that goes to private school students because we MUST buy them their books even if it means there are no books for public school students.

That's my General ASSembly

Posted by: John at June 29, 2009 6:31 AM

I see (PDF). As you note, that number doesn't include most of the operational costs of operating a school. It also includes charter schools in the average.

I still don't see where it teases out special ed students, though.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 6:45 AM

It doesn't, but if you go to the In$ite data for the latest year avaiable for this data, you find that Chart 12 lists expenditures by program.

That page shows costs as "General Education" which is the costs for all students, "Special Education" which is only costs above and beyond the general education costs, "Chapter 1 / Title 1" for the spending of federal funds, "Vocational" spending for that program, and "Other" which is a minor factor.

So I will presume that each of these program measures includes all factors and the last measure has General Education at $10,590/pupil as compared to Special Ed costs at $35,134/pupil.

Removing spoecial ed students from the general ed population will surely make it less expensive for the exclusively general ed group, but the rest of the populatioin will have a much higher average cost.

Posted by: John at June 29, 2009 9:01 AM

Another problem with having a Prout or a LaSalle set up and run a satellite alternative to a district's public schools is it doesn't address family issues. The schools have the hammer and the parents they deal with are largely motivated to do what it takes to keep their kids at those schools, A friend of my wife served many years ago on the Queens NY school committee. The only comment I remember her making regarding that service was an embittered "You must always remember that the #1 job of public schools is day care."
No school/no teacher can fix the parents - unless you can toss the kids out often enough to disrupt their free day care. Then they will pay attention.

Posted by: chuckR at June 29, 2009 1:22 PM

I'd like to avoid giving the impression that I'm advocating the abolition of public school. (Vouchers would be my target.) But I do want to challenge John on his assertion:

Removing spoecial ed students from the general ed population will surely make it less expensive for the exclusively general ed group, but the rest of the population will have a much higher average cost.

According to your own reasoning, they already have a much higher average cost, we just choose to elide the disparity in the way we present the statistics. In other words, I'd need some proof before believing that it would cost more to educate special ed students separately. (Again, I'm not advocating that; I'd rather they have expanded opportunities, as well.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 2:07 PM

As for the hammer that David references: what if the hammer became (somewhere along the school food chain) a requirement that parents begin paying tuition or something?

I mean this as a brainstorming suggestion, not a policy proposal.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 2:12 PM


My point was not to say that costs would rise, I said that the average cost per pupil would move higher if you sent kids to private schools because the proportion of regular ed students to the total population would go down. That's all.

Posted by: John at June 29, 2009 3:25 PM
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