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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Small Schools Give Economic and Educational Return on Investment

Friday's print MDL ran this half-page informational ad to explain just what the state gets for its extra investment in small schools. The ad, apparently from the Rutland and Oldham-Ramona school districts, is clearly a response to failed House Bill 1150 and other action during this year's legislative session that shows our elected officials (mostly Republicans) still view education as an unpleasant expense rather than a vital investment.

Some highlights from the ad:
  1. The 232 students at Oldham-Ramona and Rutland cost the state about $44,000 more than the aid formula would send if those kids went to bigger schools. That $44,000 supports 60 jobs and $3 million of district expenditures... also known as economic activity (Rutland pays teachers; teachers buy gas, groceries, and houses; everyone's happy).
  2. The small schools don't argue that they are absolutely better than large schools. They recognize that while smal schools are better for some kids, big schools are better for others.
    The small schools want every family to have a full range of choices to provide their children with the educational experience that's best for them (and isn't that what we all want?)
  3. The real problem is that the State of South Dakota isn't meeting its obligation to sufficiently fund any schools, large or small. South Dakota remains dead, dead last in per-student state funding, leaving local districts to struggle to raise captial through opt-outs.


  1. Cory,
    You mention that there is a return on the investment. But would you go and pay double for the same product. That is what is happening here. It costs $10,531 to educate 1 child in Oldham/Ramona, $8,750 to educate a child in Rutland, and $5,690 to educate a child in Madison.

    Now I am now economic genius by any means but that doesn't seem like a return on my investment.

    Don't you think a better return on your investment is paying half for a child who can take full range of classes, including AP with a HQT in the classroom and be able to participate in a variety of co-curricular activities.

    This ad also had some surprising stats as well. When a smaller school opts out that pays almost 9 times that of when a larger school opts out.

    The ad talks about the same experience with twice the attention. This is based on years of teaching. What about advanced degrees?

    Cory, I know you love a good fact finding mission so as long as we are on the topic of return on the investment, what about ACT scores, scholarship awards, post secondary goals, college retention. I guess if I am going to judge my return on my investment I want to also see the product I am investing in.

    I agree with the ad that the true issue is the funding of k12 education.


  2. 232 Students receiving the small school factor of an additional $800 per student at Rutland and O-R is quite a bit more than what you quoted. If my math is correct, it adds up to $185,600 in bonus money for the smaller schools, of which they are using a portion to unfairly advertise and market for more students, using our own tax dollars against us.

    We shouldn't be pitting one school against the other with an advertising campaign. Smaller schools have the advantage of more intimate smaller class sizes, but larger schools have the variety of educational and co-curricular opportunities of scale that small schools simply cannot provide due to their low numbers. Rutland has to keep its eye on that magic number of 100 students.

    HB1150 sought to eliminate the $800 small school factor when a student leaves a larger school and open enrolls to a small school like Rutland. After all, what additional expenses does one student add to a district with small class sizes. There shouldn't be a financial reward for recruiting students from adjoining districts.

    I think of the phrase, "let a sleeping dog lie" when I see Rutland continuing to solicit open enrollees from Madison. Madison Central could certainly create a marketing budget and direct mail every student's family in Rutland and O-R every week for years, touting its tremendous class offerings and activities that widen a student's horizons. I'm proud Madison has not done that as of yet.

  3. Wow.

    Point #1 is entirely fallacious. You are implying that if the 44k disappeared so would the 3 million in expenditures.

    Point #2 is completely unsupported. PROVE THAT SMALL SCHOOLS ARE BETTER FOR ANYONE. You can't and don't. You don't even attempt to define what better means. Seriously, would you support me if I developed a school that simply provided smokes and booze to kids? It certainly would attract some students, so it's better, right?

  4. Most educators have come to the conclusion that whatever works is the right answer.

    Our grade school in Basin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Basinschool.jpg

    has been a successful source of community pride in a town of a few hundred people for at least 35 years.

    Parents and community members routinely come into classrooms and make presentations on everything from mining to politics to same-sex relationships (our community is home to numerous artists). Every year, our students test at the highest percentiles in the State of Montana.

    NPR has run many stories about the failure of middle schools, the successes of teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms, and mandatory uniforms.

    As radically left wing as I am, I believe public schools need some progressive changes; experimentation at each school should be the norm.

  5. I was a little disappointed in the ad. It left out tax levy information. The Oldham-Ramona and Rutland districts have a huge tax base relative to the number of students that they have. Even with the opt-out that they have, taxes are comparable with bigger districts.

    The total ag levy for O-R is 6.84 for 2010. Rutland is at 7.65. Madison is higher than both of them at 7.78. Cory always says Brookings is doing so well, but their total ag levy is 8.623.

    It looks as if farmers in the o-R and Rutland districts will pay less in taxes. Yes there are fewer students and the per/student costs are much higher, but the taxes are lower in the smaller districts.

  6. Mike, the state allows up to 3 mils for Capital Outlay. Madison is using the full 3 mils for their capital outlay budget which also includes payments on the new grade school. Once that is paid off, the Cap Outlay mil levy will decrease.

    It is possible that Rutland doesn't use its full 3 mils because they haven't had construction projects recently, but Oldham-Ramona may use a portion of their Capital Outlay availability for their new gym. I'm not sure what their funding source is going to be.

  7. Rod,

    I think that we all know that Madison is looking at a much needed high school renovation in the near future. That levy isn't going to go down any time soon.

    From what I understand O_R will be able to fund it's gym project without increasing taxes.


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