PPS Neighborhood Funding Inequities Report

by Steve, September 25th, 2007

After kvetching about it on my blog for the last several months, I finally put all my enrollment and transfer data research into a report and presented it to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education last night. The report, Charting Open Transfer Enrollment and Neighborhood Funding Inequities (261 KB PDF), was still in draft form, but I wanted to get it out in advance of the board’s work on the topic, scheduled to begin at the Student Support and Community Relations Committee meeting October 4.

Already, I’ve received valuable feedback from board members and the community. One thing I intend to incorporate soon is a different way of looking at the numbers. The study currently charts divestment and excess investment in a cluster based on individual schools’ budget per student. This figure includes local grants, Title I money, etc., money which does not go with students when they transfer.

I knew this when I put this study out, and in a certain sense, it is a good way to look at the numbers, since when students leave Title I schools for non-Title I schools, it represents lost federal money. On the other hand, some grants are given to schools regardless of enrollment, so the amount per student increases as students transfer out. Tubman is a prime example, where dwindling enrollment has left a budget of $12,133 per student.

So I intend to run the numbers using a consistent dollar amount for each transfered student. It is important to note that the patterns of red and green on the map will likely be unchanged, but the loss from the red zone added to the gain in the green zone will add up to zero.

Thanks to all who have already contributed feedback to this report. I didn’t intend it to be my personal manifesto; I just ended up cranking it out on my own due to time constraints. More feedback is encouraged and welcome.

Update, January 2008: In the final version of this report, published in January 2008, I used a consistent figure of $6,800 per student to calculate the net gains and losses of each cluster.

23 Responses to “PPS Neighborhood Funding Inequities Report”

  1. Comment from paul:

    A couple of comments.

    Our enrollment figures can’t be described as “good” or “bad” in isolation–it’s not fair to compare a relatively homogeneous and wealthy urban district to other urban districts that wrestle with much more significant disparities in income and racial divisions.

    Put it this way: Newark may be a lot more “successful” if they retain 60% of students in schools that Portland is if they retain 80%.

    What you need is a predicted level of school attendance based on general characteristics of the district, then see if PPS is doing better or worse that we’d predict.

    I also think lumping Benson and Cleveland is misleading–your stats indicate that 7 of the 9 million “influx” in expenditures are all Benson. Removing Benson puts Cleveland right in front of Franklin.

    This is where I thought it would be–when you compare Cleveland (which is absolutely bursting at the seams–the incoming first year class is **600** students) to Wilson, Lincoln, and Grant, it’s kind of embarassing.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Paul, good points. I have stated numerous times that our district has a lot more in common with a suburban district like Beaverton than with the troubled urban districts administrators like to compare us to (e.g. the Vicki Phillips approach to Jefferson, Roosevelt, Marshall and Madison).

    Re. Benson in the Cleveland cluster, this study was mainly intended to show where our public education investment money is going in relation to where our students live. Benson is physically in the Cleveland cluster, so attendance there represents investment in the area in excess of student population.

    I intend to do some more number crunching, and some finer grained analysis going forward. School-by-school comparisons, for example, since many clusters have different trends at the elementary and secondary levels.

  3. Comment from Terry:

    Clusters and comparisons aside, the bottom line is that poor neighborhood schools –Grout Elementary, for example, which feeds into Cleveland– suffer under Portland’s transfer policy. The same is true for almost all low income schools across the city. The best and the brightest in those neighborhoods choose to attend school elsewhere.

    Let’s keep our eye on the ball in this discussion. The debate is about a policy which creates a two-tiered educational system in this district, one for the wealthy and well-connected, and one for everybody else.

    In that sense, the precise dollar amount of “disinvestment” doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is clearly taking place, largely due to Portland’s commitment to school choice.

  4. Comment from Steve:

    Thanks for your words of support, Terry. I’m just trying to be very forthright and open about how I came up with the numbers, in order to head off the inevitable criticism that will come up when somebody who disagrees with my conclusions wants to pick apart my methodology.

    Like I said, the map will essentially look the same. I just want to demonstrate that however you look at the numbers, the bottom line is essentially the same. The more ways I can show that, the stronger my argument is.

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, I will look for you on the TV. Did the school board respond to your presentation?

    I am holding out for a 4 tier system. 1) Lincoln, Wilson, parts of Grant and parts of Cleveland 2) Franklin (and left over Grant and Cleveland) 3) Jefferson 4) Madison, Marshall, Roosevelt

    Each of these 4 have differing characteristics and are treated difffernently by the power that be.

  6. Comment from Neisha:

    Hello, I’m catching up on the posts here, since I’m the one who sort of caused that discussion on the TAG list (I know, my bad, it’s just that PPS released another enrollment report and I’m worried that enrollment isn’t really declining and they’ve closed too many schools . . . and then Wacky Mommy quite rightly pointed out that a cause of some “green” overcrowding is because of transfers . . . )

    Anyway, the recent post that made me want to chime in again here was the one where Steve described the “extras” at Chief Joseph. I’m left scratching my head as to why that school is in the “red” column when the “extras” are the same, if not better, then at the “green” school near me. Plus, I’m guessing, kindergarten classes of less than 30 and maybe even free pre-K and free full day kindergarten? (It’s around $300 a month for pre-K and full day kindergarten at aforementioned “green” school — not to knock my neighborhood school which is a perfectly decent, if rather crowded, school. Plus the neighbors go there, which is nice.)

    So, why would parents transfer out of a school like Chief Joseph to another neighborhood school? Is it all about race and/or class? Is it the perception of things being better across town? Is it some sort of historical reputation thing? I’m baffled.

  7. Comment from Neisha:

    Oh, and great report!

  8. Comment from Steve:

    Neisha, a ton of the out-transfers are Kenton students who never transfered in. When the two schools “merged”, Chief Joseph became physically full, going from 234 students from 393 students. The attendance area is 505 students, so it’s really the combined Kenton and Chief Joseph areas that are in the red, not Chief Joseph the school.

    As to the difference in programs, I can only guess that it’s due to administrator’s discretion. Chief Joseph does have a handful of FTEs from SES, Title I and “other grants”.

  9. Comment from Sarah Carlin Ames:

    Sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself at the meeting, Steve. I haven’t had a chance to read your report, but the gist of your theory seems simple and accurate: When students choose to transfer out of their neighborhood schools (into other neighborhood schools or focus options), eventually the money goes with them.

    Portland Public Schools staffs our schools largely based on their enrollment, using the most recent numbers available. (Grants, federal money, a slight extra $ bump for schools with many low-income families all add to the basic staffing formula.) This current school year’s staffing is based on school enrollment in the 2006 calendar year. For schools losing enrollment, that lag means higher funding per currently enrolled student. The combination of all those factors is why per-student funding at low-income schools is usually significantly higher than at schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

    Any “disinvestment” from low-income neighborhoods you outline in your report (and again, I haven’t read the full report and thus can’t validate your numbers and reasoning) is not because PPS transfers the money out, but because PPS allows parents to transfer their children out.

    When you have schools with more space than kids, if they are attractive schools, they draw from other neighborhoods. Mt Tabor Middle School — to pick an example — last year had 633 students, with the majority (380 students) transferring in from outside the neighborhood attendance area.

    Cleveland has restricted transfers in, but a slight shift in its attendance boundary — and its increasingly strong reputation — means that it’s attracting more neighborhood kids. I highly doubt they have a first-year class of 600 though; a recent head count showed 1,565 kids this fall, which if it holds true would mean a bump of almost 100 since last year (making it larger than Wilson, but still smaller than Grant).

    I’m not going to debate the policy with all of you — that truly is a matter for the School Board and its discussions — but I’m happy to share facts and numbers as I have them.

    Sarah Carlin Ames
    PPS Communications

  10. Comment from Neisha:

    Ah, OK. Thanks! That makes a lot of sense. These closures have caused a lot of havoc, especially at the lower grades. The puzzling closure of RCP (on the heels of Whitaker and, before that, Meek) has had massive ripple effects in this part of town.

    In the meantime, it looks like Chief Joseph has a nice situation for the time being. Hopefully, they won’t get crazy big kindergarten classes next year when everyone figures out how nice it is.

    Oh, hey, since you’re looking at finer points now, I wanted to mention the weird situation of the middle school closest to us, Beaumont. It used to have three feeders, Boise-Eliot, Sabin and Alameda. Since Boise-Eliot and Sabin are transitioning to K-8, Beaumont is down to one feeder, Alameda, which also sends a lot of kids to da Vinci. So, in order to keep programming in place, the principal is required to draw kids away from growing K-8 schools in the Grant, Jefferson and Madison clusters, which makes for an odd dynamic (half the kids being from one school and the other half being from all over NE). Not sure how to solve this issue, but I thought it was worth mentioning, since I’m not sure of another non-focus oriented neighborhood school that needs to rely so heavily on transfers because of feeder structure.

  11. Comment from Steve:

    Sarah, you note that divestment comes “not because PPS transfers the money out, but because PPS allows parents to transfer their children out.”

    Yes, of course. My study is precisely about how open transfer enrollment causes public investment in neighborhoods disproportionate to the the student populations who live there.

    I have serious issues with parsing this so that it absolves the school board of responsibility. They are responsible for the policy that has caused what is quite literally an upward redistribution of public wealth. This is the effect of the “invisible hand” of the marketplace that our school board has trusted to distribute our public investment.

    Just because they didn’t vote to fund one neighborhood more than another doesn’t mean they’re not responsible for their policy that does just that.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. Comment from Steve:

    Neisha, an important thing to keep in mind (and Sarah touched on this a bit) is that just because a school is in the “red” doesn’t mean it isn’t fully funded based on its enrollment. To the contrary, many red zone schools have better FTE ratios and budgets per student.

    Free market advocates would argue that this would have an equalizing effect, as class sizes drop and FTE ratios improve at schools with out-transfers, thus attracting in-transfers. Nice theory, but the reality is quite different, of course, as evidenced by Jefferson High.

    The issue my study addresses is not at all about funding per student. It is about localized school funding, compared to where students live. The overall pattern of greater public investment in wealthier neighborhoods is very clear.

  13. Comment from Neisha:

    Thanks! That helps me get my mind around this.

    There’s so much happening at the elementary and middle school level that it’s hard to track, with all the closures, consolidations, reconfigurations, boundary changes, adding new immersion programs, etc. A person (OK, me) could really get bogged down in the details.

    But, when you pull back, as you’ve done with your amazing map, and look at high schools and clusters, the inequities *are* a lot more stark.

  14. Comment from paul g.:


    I reported the 600 figure, which was given to me by my son from an assembly. So much for my reliance on my kid!

    You are right, Cleveland doesn’t have 600, but I am glad that you acknowledge the enrollment pressures at the school. (From an athletics perspective, Cleveland is in PIL’s 5A classification even though it is now the third largest school in the district).

    If anyone compares Cleveland with Lincoln, Wilson, and Grant, it’s hard to understand how we can be

    Yes, we got new books this year–thanks! But my first comment remains: my children have not one single class under 40 (a senior and a first year), and both of them are in the IB/Honors track. My daughter’s gym class has 140 kids–yes people, you read that right–140 kids in PE.

    As I’ve responded to you in other forums, we are sticking with the district for now. I have two kids in HS. But for my 2nd grader and preschooler, we are much less committed. Our neighbors are bailing out at a disturbing rate.

    (Apropos of the branding thread–I honestly could care less about corporate logos if we got art, music, and sports back into the middle school and had a decent TAG program. Until we fix the funding formula at the state, I don’t know what alternative there is.)

  15. Comment from paul g.:

    One last note. When I wrote this Our enrollment figures can’t be described as “good” or “bad” in isolation

    I was not referring to you, but to the constant mantra that we hear about how our attendance figures are XYZ and therefore we are “world class” (see the Portland Vision statement as a glaring example).

    The question should always be: are we doing as well as we can, and what can we do better. And in order to answer that question, the District needs to know what the 80% figure really means.

  16. Comment from Steve:

    … we are sticking with the district for now. I have two kids in HS. But for my 2nd grader and preschooler, we are much less committed. Our neighbors are bailing out at a disturbing rate.

    I hope I’m not mischaracterizing you here, Paul, but it sounds distinctly like you are not happy with the results of open transfers, particularly the overcrowding from in-transfers at your “green zone” high school.

    I’ve heard this same complaint about Grant.

    This is a critical element, which needs to be called out. This policy is harmful to students at schools all across the district. Students at green zone schools may have more academic and extracurricular options, but they have very significant problems of their own.

    In ’06-’07, Cleveland had a net of about 100 more students attending than attendance area population. Grant had net in-transfer pressure of 72, Lincoln had 103 and Franklin had 110.

    Seems like removing 100 students from a school that’s bursting at the seams could make a real difference to the learning environment.

  17. Comment from Neisha:

    Yes, that’s exactly right. Having half of the high schools half-full and the other half overcrowded is no good for anyone.

    I know I keep harping on the kindergarten class sizes (and I don’t mean to come off as snarky about it), but overcrowding in kindergarten is really freaking people out. A couple years ago, by some fluke, Sabin had kindergarten classes of, like 18 or something. Word got out, and the next year there were 31 in one of the kindergarten classes. With fewer buildings now, there’s a lot of anxiety out there about crowding.

  18. Comment from Steve:

    Neisha, you are absolutely correct to be alarmed. PPS has been a little bit unforthcoming about this, but what we heard from a K teacher was that they’re still budgeting for half-day K, even as many schools transition to full-day.

    So where you would have had a nice 16-student half day class, you’ve now got a 32-student nightmare.

    The fact that transitions to full-day have been unevenly implemented (it is not available at some schools, available for fee at others, and free at some) don’t help matters at all.

    California got this right when they limited kindergarten class size to 20 , whether full-day or half-day.

  19. Comment from marcia:

    “but overcrowding in kindergarten is really freaking people out.”
    And nobody is more freaked out than us teachers…I have 27 now in my kindergarten…It’s sort of like rats in a box…pretty soon they start chewing off each others’ legs or tails because they are overcrowded…And then I am supposed to perform the miracles sent down from above (BESC) and assess them all one on one and according to the new scripted reading program also lead small reading groups as the other 21 or so stab each other with pencils and poke each others’ eyes out….Are we having fun yet? I guess those folks in the Nut Hut who make the big bucks are…Out here on the battlefield it’s another story…In ALL the schools…

  20. Comment from marcia:

    Wow. And I just found this quote about neoliberal goals… (which is characteristic of PPS under Vicki Phillips and our current school board):

    “increase the productivity of teachers by augmenting the number of students per class.”

    Oh, now I get it.

  21. Comment from Neisha:

    I feel for you Marcia. Last year my son had 27 in kindergarten. It was *tough* on that teacher. This year that same teacher has 29, five of whom are half-day — so she really needs to cram in the morning. At a nearby school that’s converting to K-8 with very limited space (they’re going to boot out pre-K to fit in 8th graders next year, and may end up needing portables) they have two sections of 31 kids. I don’t see this getting better with all the restructuring.

    And since we’re now looking at everything from a business perspective, what kind of marketing is this? But, maybe parents and kids are not the target market.

  22. Comment from paul G.:


    You characterize me right. I moved here after a decade in a tough urban district (Durham NC) but one where we actually had better educational options than here. A lot of my response is a product of that time–this was a district with poverty and equity issues far worse that Portland. It seemed like the reality of those issue that faced parents and educators daily forced everyone to deal with them. From my first year in Portland, “complacency” seemed to me the best word to describe the district.

    Blessed with a wealthy, generally homogeneous, generally educated population, the schools have been allowed to languish for more than a decade. And folks keep reassuring themselves that everything is OK because, after all, “80%…”

    As to transfers, I think Cleveland is getting hit hard by a) NCLB (and what seems to me the eventual end of Jefferson and at least one more eastside HS), and b) the inability to transfer into Lincoln and resultant desire of kids to get into the IB program.

    I busted my ass to get into a house in a neighborhood with a solid elementary, because I never believed the transfer policy that existed when I arrived here in 2001 was politically or demographically sustainable.

    I just didn’t realize at that time how bad things would get a the middle and HS levels. In hindsight, we should have bit the bullet and moved to West Linn or Vancouver, where at least our kids would have full academic programs, decent facilities, and extracurriculars.

    As I wrote above, we’re committed to staying, for now, but I suspect I am like many in that I don’t recommend the City to new arrivals, especially with older kids. Sadly, I have to recommend they move to the suburbs or the ‘Couv.

  23. Comment from Neisha:

    There’s a discussion re: kindergarten crowding at Blue Oregon right now: