No, Boston Public Schools is not spending $20,000 on your kid

Anyone who has been to law school recently knows the difference between median and average. When you think about going to law school and visit different schools websites, you may see a proud statistic: Our graduates average $80,000 salary one year after graduation.

But once you graduate, you realize what that number really means. A few of your classmates make $160,000 plus that first year. And a whole bunch of you make $50,000 or less. No one is making $80,000. The average doesn’t tell you much about how most of your classmates are doing.

I raised my eyebrows when I saw the media proudly announcing that BPS spends $20,000 per student a year. Because, you know, that sounds pretty good. Sometimes, they bothered to mention that it was an average. Sometimes they made it sound like a baseline.

I found where everyone was getting that number, and it came from a census report that tallied up federal, state and local aid and divided by the number of students. It’s an average.

Now, why do I care so much? Because the state vastly underfunds public schools. The Foundation Budget Review came out stating that the state is not providing for the true cost of special education and for health care costs.

But what about that $20,000? you ask. It may be illustrative to see what BPS spends in relation to other schools districts though I think that’s questionable. Here are a few things to consider:

In attempt to stem special ed students being sent out of district to very expensive private schools, BPS has attempted to replicate some of these programs with strands. For example, there are autism strands in BPS that employ ABA specialist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc. These are not cheap to maintain.

The McKinley-Vento education act requires school districts to bus homeless kids back to their home district to help promote stability for the kids.

I’m very much in favor of both special education and McKinley-Vento but they are both underfunded programs. And they skew the data a bit.

So yes, $20,000 a year is a healthy average. But unless you have a high needs child (who has every right to a public education) they are not spending that much on your child.

DFER had a few things to say to me about this. They didn’t quite get my point but they made me a pretty graphic. You can see their response here: 

4 thoughts on “No, Boston Public Schools is not spending $20,000 on your kid

  1. I wonder how much BPS spends per General Ed student, both with and without the cost of transportation. Are those figures available anywhere? I bet they’re not eager to share that information… What was the pretty graphic that DEER made? I couldn’t find it…. by the way, I love that you’re doing this Blog!


  2. Hi Megan! Thanks for being my very first commenter! They tweeted a graphic at me. I’m trying to figure out if I can post it in the comments. Essentially, it was a “fact check.” The facts in the graphic and on the DFER page are correct. But they were missing my point. Some people were taking the $20,000 number out of context and not qualifying it as an average, thus making it sound like BPS spends $20,000 per kid.


  3. There’s some info and data here, along the same lines. See the section on “The Effect on Regular Education Teachers.”
    They are discussing how underfunding the foundation budget leads to districts cutting general ed to cover the shortfall. Spending on general ed students is lower in many districts than the foundation budget for general ed.

    Also, if you look at the Online Interactive Tool and click Boston, you can see their numbers for Boston. It’s a few years old but one would think the conclusions still hold:

    The Massachusetts foundation budget and the Boston Schools weighted student funding model both recognize different levels of need for differing student populations.


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