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Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace interviews Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., about the causes of the unrest in Baltimore. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace interviews Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., about the causes of the unrest in Baltimore.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace interviews Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., about the causes of the unrest in Baltimore.

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 5, 2015

How much does Baltimore spend on its schools?

The Baltimore riot has many people talking about how life could be improved in neighborhoods that have been in the grip of poverty for many decades. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said on Fox News Sunday that investing in schools is an obvious step.

But host Chris Wallace pushed back.

"It’s not a matter of money," Wallace said on May 3, 2015. "One of the things that we learned this week is Baltimore spends the third-highest per capita on its public schools. Baltimore was already spending plenty on public schools, and the schools were still lousy."

To get to "third-highest," Wallace is counting only the 100 largest school districts -- and lopping off more affluent communities in the process.

Fox News told us that Wallace relied on a Census Bureau release that compared the 100 largest school districts nationwide. (Wallace misspoke slightly. He should have said per-pupil spending, not per capita.) Among the 100 largest districts, Baltimore does spend more per pupil than all-but two other districts:

School district

Enrollment

$ per pupil

New York City

990,145

$20,226

Boston

55,027

$19,720

Baltimore

84,212

$15,287

Anchorage

48,765

$14,963

Montgomery County

146,459

$14,873

The problem is there are more than 15,000 school districts across the country, and there are hundreds that spend more. Among school districts with at least 5,000 students, Baltimore ranks 160th in spending. Or to give another example, Baltimore ranks 20th among the 500 largest school districts:

Rank

School District

Enrollment

$ per pupil

Rank

School District

Enrollment

$ per pupil

1

Newark

35,543

$23,946

11

Jersey City

27,397

$18,259

2

New York City

990,145

$20,226

12

Brentwood, N.Y.

17,143

$18,034

3

Elizabeth, N.J.

23,386

$20,220

13

New Haven

20,554

$17,615

4

Boston

55,027

$19,720

14

District of Columbia

44,618

$17,468

5

Buffalo

32,723

$18,971

15

Arlington County, Va.

21,892

$17,338

6

Hartford

20,931

$18,843

16

Christina, Del.

16,303

$17,026

7

Yonkers

25,326

$18,798

17

Waterbury, Conn.

18,061

$16,030

8

Rochester

31,432

$18,762

18

Pittsburgh

26,653

$15,615

9

Paterson, N.J.

24,365

$18,590

19

Springfield, Ma.

25,185

$15,374

10

Syracuse

20,491

$18,387

20

Baltimore

84,212

$15,287

The spending vs. results debate

Wallace simplified a complex problem when he said improving Baltimore’s schools "is not about money." There are studies on both sides of that debate.

To pick one that supports Wallace’s view, researchers looked at four years of data on Pennsylvania schools. In 2010, the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education in Philadelphia compared spending in nearly 500 school districts to 11th grade test results. The strongest predictor of high scores was the fraction of adults in the district with a four-year college degree. F. Joseph Merlino is the organization’s president.

"You would think that spending more money would lead to better outcomes," Merlino said. "But the results are very weak."

The report said "Spending per pupil, regardless of expenditure category, had either no association with student achievement or at best only a weak positive or a weak negative correlation with student achievement. "

On the other hand, professors at Northwestern University and the University of California-Berkeley looked at four decades in school districts where spending increased under court order. In a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they said that for low income children who spent all 12 years in schools where spending rose at least 20 percent, graduation rates rose by 23 percentage points.

There were also "25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty." At the same time, increased spending had little impact on the education of children from families making more money.

Our ruling

Wallace said that Baltimore ranks third in per capita school spending. 

That's only true if you look at the 100 largest school districts. Among the top 500, Baltimore ranks 20th. Among school districts with at least 5,000 students, Baltimore ranks 160th in spending.

Wallace's claim is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Fox News, Fox News Sunday, May 3, 2015

U.S. Census Bureau, For the First Time, Public Education Revenue Decreases in 2012, Census Bureau Reports, May 22, 2014

U.S. Census Bureau, Public Elementary–Secondary Education Finance Data, 2012

21st Century Partnership for STEM Education, Are Educational Expenditures Associated with 11th Grade Student Achievement in Pennsylvania School Districts?, November 2010

National Bureau of Economic Research, The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes, May 2014

Education Week, School Spending Increases Linked to Better Outcomes for Poor Students, May 29, 2014

National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard University, Does local tax financing of public schools perpetuate inequality?, undated

Interview, Stephen Wheeler, education specialist, U.S. Census Bureau, May 4, 2015

Interview, Carly Shanahan, spokeswoman, Fox News, May 4, 2015

Email interview, F. Joseph Merlino, president, 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education, May 4, 2015

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