- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The District had one of the most expensive school systems in the country in 2006, paying more than $13,000 per student, Census Bureau figures show.

On average, school districts nationwide spent $9,138 per student in fiscal 2006, which is about $437 more than in 2005, according to a report made public yesterday.

The $13,446-per-pupil spending in 2006 ranked the District as the third highest in the country, exceeded only by New York, at $14,884, and New Jersey, at $14,630, the report said.

Per-pupil spending was the lowest in Utah, at $5,437; Idaho, at $6,440; and Arizona, at $6,472.

D.C. public school scores on math and reading were the lowest in the country last year, according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests released in September.

The results showed that slightly more than half of fourth-graders and two-thirds of eighth-graders tested below the “basic” level in math. On the reading section, 61 percent of fourth-graders and 52 percent of eighth-graders scored below the basic level.

Officials define the basic level as “partial mastery” of fundamental skills, and rank it below “proficient” and “advanced” benchmarks.

Nationally, 30 percent of eighth-grade students scored below the basic level in math and 27 percent scored below the basic level in reading.

At the time, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee called the scores “not terribly different from prior years” and were expected based on results from the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System.

Shortly after she was appointed to the chancellor post in June by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Mrs. Rhee began reducing the school system’s central office staff and closing schools with low enrollment in an effort to move more funding to classrooms.

Calls to D.C. Public Schools were not returned.

The Census Bureau report said public school systems across the country received $521.1 billion from all sources in 2006, a 6.7 percent increase from 2005.

About 47 percent of the money came from state governments, 44 percent from local sources and 9 percent from the federal government.

“We haven’t seen a corresponding rise” in test scores and academic achievement, despite the spending, said Dan Lips, education analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It’s not to say that funding doesn’t matter. It just shouldn’t be seen as a cure-all.”

Tom Loveless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, another District-based think tank, said states had been “flush with cash” in recent years but now are faced with a slowing economy.

He said all states are reporting cutbacks and predicted per-pupil spending will decrease in coming years.

David C. Lipscomb contributed to this report.

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