Watchdog Texas broke the story yesterday of a Texas school district spending a lot of money to educate “at-risk” students and not getting much for it. The Lamar Academy in McAllen, Texas spent $48,788 per student and has a 13.8% dropout rate.
From Watchdog Texas:
A “dropout recovery school” in McAllen is costing taxpayers $48,788 per pupil — more than five times district and state averages.
Despite the record spending, Lamar Academy’s dropout rate is the district’s worst at 13.8 percent.
“This is outrageous. Why not just give parents a voucher and they can send their children to (Ivy League prep schools) Andover or Exeter?” fumes Nicholas Quezada, a former member of the McAllen Independent School District board.
Serving 97 “at risk” students, Lamar racks up big expenses with a gaudy 2-to-1 pupil-teacher ratio. Yet the intensive outlays haven’t produced lower dropout rates.
The school’s “four-year longitudinal” dropout rate of 13.8 percent exceeds McAllen ISD’s 10 percent rate and more than doubles the state average of 6.6 percent.
New Orleans’s student population is mostly “at-risk” students. But they have been showing improvement with high school graduation rates improving over the past decade. The city has been spending a little over $8,800 per student for its improvements.
Why have New Orleans schools improved? Because of school choice and charter schools.
Before Hurricane Katrina decimated the city and most of its schools in 2005, 64 percent of public school students in New Orleans attended a school designated as “failing.” Currently, only 9 percent of students attend failing schools. High school graduation rates have increased by more than 20 percentage points, from below 50 percent to more than 70 percent. And, in 2013, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that New Orleans charter schools deliver five months of extra learning per year when compared to similarly situated traditional schools.
New Orleans’s most at-risk students are also benefitting from the new system: CREDO found students with special needs achieve nearly two months of extra learning per year. And, despite New Orleans schools serving an extremely at-risk population, the expulsion rate is below the state average. Performance increases have not been achieved by ignoring equity; rather, New Orleans has become one of the most equitable urban school districts in the country.
This might be one of the policy ideas Texas should take from Louisiana. Lamar Academy sounds like it needs to become a charter school. They will get better performance and spend less money while doing so.