Tech, mental health costs drive up local school spending
The Patriot Ledger - 5/23/2019
May 23-- May 23--School districts are spending more money per student than ever across the country, and South Shore administrators say the rising numbers are a reflection of changing trends that demand more technology and increased social and emotional support for students.
"There are huge costs associated with these diverse programs and services, but it's what kids need," Thea Stovell, Randolph superintendent, said Wednesday.
South Shore school districts all spend more than the state average of $13,047 per student per year, and are well above the national average of $11,392, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the most recent spending data provided by the state. Between 2010 and 2017, every district upped their per-student spending by at least $2,500; some, like Weymouth, have gone even higher.
In the last four years, the school budget in Weymouth has gone up nearly 19 percent. More than $8 million in additional money has been spent on new technology, upgraded curriculum, materials and capital needs. Between fiscal 2014 and 2018, per-student spending went from $12,984 to $16,362.
"We definitely felt like we were playing catch-up with school funding when we came in in 2016," Mayor Robert Hedlund said. "We've increased our per-pupil spending through what we've been able to do with our town budget and we've been prioritizing the schools' needs. ... There have been tremendous strides made in both the resources that we're putting into the classrooms and with capital projects."
Pembroke schools increased their per-pupil spending between 2010 and 2017 by $3,500, the second-largest single district jump on the South Shore behind Weymouth.
Sharon Monteforte, communications specialist for Pembroke schools, said that amount "doesn't come anywhere close to where it should be."
"With the changes in the state standards, we have had to adopt and revise curricular resources in English, mathematics, science and social studies. Additional changes in state and College Board Advanced Placements assessments have also required funding," she said in an email Wednesday.
Increased spending in schools raises graduation rates and boots post-graduate salaries for students, a 2017 Northwestern University study said. The same study says low-income students stand to benefit the most from increased spending.
On the South Shore, Randolph spent the second-most per student in 2017 at $17,380, but also has one of the highest rates of high-need students. Nearly 45 percent of Randolph students, or about 1,230 kids, are classified as economically disadvantaged by the state Department of Education, meaning they qualify for more than one family income-based state assistance program.
Stovell says Randolph does have high spending, and says much of that can be attributed to the district's high English language learning population, a rapidly growing number of special education students, and having to pay for transportation to get students in transition, formerly called homeless students, to school.
"We have an obligation to meet the needs of our students," she said. "I'm not asking for money to do exceptional work, I'm just trying to be in compliance with what is being asked of us from our very diverse student population."
This year's budget request to the town includes money for a grant writer that would help up the per-student spending even more if the district is awarded grants to pay for improvements to technology and social emotional support.
"We've invested a lot of technology into our district, but we still need more. Eventually, I'd like to see us be a district where every student has a device. We're moving slowly, but we're moving," Stovell said.
Reach Mary Whitfill at email@example.com.
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