Let’s crunch some numbers and take a look at that billion dollar BPS budget

The very minute my Christmas vacation started, and I mean on the train on the ride home, I developed a fever. So while my family was out being merry and bright, I was home, bedridden. This was very sad so I decided to take the opportunity to crunch some numbers. But please remember, this blog post was written in a feverish haze.

One thing I’ve been hearing a lot lately, from disparate but not disconnected places, is about the billion dollar BPS budget.

A billion dollars! A billion dollars! BPS is costing the city a billion dollars!

Now granted, a billion is a big number. Really big. But what I wanted to know, is it an unreasonable number.

One thing that I noticed is that people who like to bring up the billion dollar budget like to compare Boston to other states, places like Florida or Alabama, where they are admittedly spending far less on education. I wonder how the parents and students in these states feel about the per pupil spending of their local school districts. Do they think they are being adequately funded?

Some of that can be explained by differences in the cost of living. But also, budgets are statements of values. And Massachusetts has valued and invested in education. And it shows. Here is Massachusetts’ performance compared to other states in the most recent NAEP tests. Even when you adjust for demographics, we come out on top.



This is important, because my fear is that with the governor’s rush to sell off commonly held schools to private interests, we are abandoning our values.

I thought it would be interesting to judge Boston not by the standards of other states but by our own standards. How does Boston’s education spending compare to the other cities and towns in the Commonwealth?

As far as per pupil spending goes, the latest figures from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website is in 2014. They list BPS as spending $18,318 per pupil. That figure wasn’t an outlier at all. In fact, 43 cities and towns spend more per pupil including poorer communities like Lawrence ($19, 672) and Lowell ($18,816). The real outlier was Provincetown. That gay little outpost spends a whopping $30,626 per student.

I placed all of the cities and towns on a chart so you can see where Boston lands next to other places in Massachusetts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 10.55.50 PM.png
I’m not particularly sure that this chart is helpful but have at it.

Now, the other kvetching I hear a lot is about how much of Boston’s budget BPS takes up. I’ve heard 40% but I couldn’t find it sourced, and I can’t remember who told me that number. It was probably some whining city councilor.

At any rate, I decided to compare Boston to other municipalities to see if BPS is taking up a larger percentage of the budget than what is reasonable.

And this is what I learned. Far from it. The state average for municipalities’ education allotment of the budget is 53%. Most cities and towns are spending a far greater percentage of their entire budget on their school system.

Now I need to mention it was far more difficult to find this data and the only place that had it was the Pioneer Institute when they compiled it back in 2011. I know we don’t see eye to eye on anything, Pioneer, but thank you for doing that.

In 2011, BPS was taking up 33.5 percent of the Boston budget compared to the 53% average of the state. There were 4 towns that spent over 70% of their budget on their schools. BPS was on the low end of the spectrum. In fact, there were only 14 cities and towns that spent a smaller percentage of their town’s budget on their school system.

Interestingly, the smallest percentage goes to Provincetown at 16% of its budget. How can that be? They have all of 120 lucky students in their well funded school system.

The governor’s home town of Swampscott pays 47.4% of its budget to its school system. And the secretary of education’s town of Milton pays 51% of its budget to the Milton school system.

I think the question isn’t whether or not BPS is spending too much money. I think the question is why do politicians not value Boston students? Because that is what they are telling us when they talk about the billion dollar BPS budget in awed tones.

What is Boston spending its money on instead?

Well, if I wanted to be a brat, I might point out that our city councilors are the highest paid city councilors in the entire state.

Let’s start there.


Update: A helpful person who I assume wants to remain anonymous sent me a cite for the 40% of Boston’s budget. This is an interesting document. It is BPS’ FY17 Financial Context and Planning. It attributes the growth in the percentage of Boston’s budget to stagnant Chapter 70 revenue (money that the state gives to BPS) and the state not fulfilling its charter school reimbursement obligations:



Here is a table of the percentages paid by municipal budgets for education:

Provincetown	16.1
Tyringham	19
Athol	        24.2
Mt Washington   26.2
Wellfleet	27.3
Truro	        27.8
Chatham	        29.3
Cambridge	29.5
Monroe	        30.4
Orleans	        31
Harwich	        31.5
Tolland	        31.6
Chilmark	32.5
Monterey	33.4
Boston	        33.5
Nahant	        33.5
Somerville	33.6
Edgartown	33.8
Royalston	34.2
Quincy	        34.4
Eastham	        35.6
Stockbridge	35.6
Dennis	        36.4
Greenfield 	36.4
Gloucester	36.8
Watertown	36.8
Adams	        36.9
Avon	        36.9
Oak Bluffs	38.4
Hull	        39.6
Northampton	39.9
Everett	        40.6
Melrose	        40.6
Rowe	        40.6
Medford	        41.2
Egremont	41.3
Falmouth	41.3
Dedham	        41.4
Malden	        41.6
Taunton	        41.6
Brookline	41.8
Mashpee	        41.8
Saugus	        42
Waltham	        42
Nantucket	42.1
North Adams	42.2
Norwood	        42.5
Pittsfield	42.7
Stoneham	42.8
Danvers	        43.3
Newburyport	43.5
Rockport	43.5
Tisbury	        43.6
W. Bridgewater  43.7
Arlington	43.8
Winthrop	44
Hadley	        44.2
Peabody	        44.3
Boylston	44.4
Upton	        44.5
Salem	        44.6
Erving	        44.8
Winchester	44.8
Hanson	        45
Whitman	        45
Hawley	        45.1
Middleborough	45.1
Ayer	        45.3
Easthampton	45.3
Florida	        45.3
Holbrook	45.5
Cohasset	45.6
Brewster	45.7
Alford	        45.8
East Brookfield	45.9
Yarmouth	45.9
Woburn	        46.2
Chelsea	        46.3
Bedford	        46.4
Shirley	        46.4
Heath	        46.6
Maynard	        46.9
Templeton	47
Bourne	        47.1
Holyoke	        47.2
Hingham	        47.3
Chelmsford	47.4
Lee	        47.4
Swampscott	47.4
West Boylston	47.4
Lincoln	        47.5
Marblehead	47.9
Wendell	        47.9
Lynn	        48
Needham	        48
Ware	        48
Wakefield	48.1
West Newbury	48.2
Agawam	        48.5
Littleton	48.5
North Brookfield48.6
Rockland	48.7
Chicopee	48.8
Ludlow	        48.8
Washington	48.8
Beckett	        48.9
Weston	        48.9
New Bedford	49
Norwell	        49
Sandwich	49.1
Weymouth	49.1
Norton	        49.2
W Springfield   49.2
Worcester	49.4
Southwick	49.5
Warren	        49.6
Abington	49.7
Billerica	49.7
Lenox	        49.7
Middlefield	49.7
Salisbury	49.7
Wayland	        49.7
Belmont	        49.8
Haverhill	49.8
Seekonk	        49.8
Beverly	        50
East Bridgewater50
Mansfield	50
North Reading	50
Otis	        50
Reading	        50
Monson	        50.1
Oxford	        50.1
Walpole	        50.3
Plainville	50.4
Fall River	50.5
South Hadley	50.5
Blackston	50.6
Hopedale	50.6
Plainfield	50.6
Brookfield	50.8
N Attleborough  50.8
Paxton	        50.8
Sandisfield	50.8
Barnstable	50.9
Burlington	50.9
Lynnfield	51
Savoy	        51.1
Goshen	        51.2
Warwick	        51.2
Westminster	51.2
Spencer	        51.3
Wellesley	51.4
Clinton	        51.5
Dudley	        51.5
Foxborough	51.5
East Longmeadow	51.6
Wrentham	51.6
Kingston	51.7
Milton	        51.7
Mendon	        51.8
Sterling	51.9
Randolph	52
Charlton	52.2
Gardner	        52.2
Easton	        52.5
Hardwick	52.5
Canton	        52.6
Phillipston	52.6
Westport	52.6
Barre	        52.8
Fitchburg	52.8
Milford	        53
Newbury	        53
Orange	        53
Revere	        53.2
Westwood	53.2
Andover	        53.5
Great Barrington53.5
Hanover	        53.5
Millis	        53.5
Scituate	53.5
Amesbury	53.6
Ashland	        53.6
Douglas	        53.6
Marion	        53.6
Southbridge	53.6
Groton	        53.7
Montague	53.7
Palmer	        53.7
Rutland	        53.7
Fairhaven	53.8
Millville	53.8
New Marlborough	53.9
Pembroke	54
Manchester	54.1
Westford	54.1
Shrewsbury	54.2
Westborough	54.3
Auburn	        54.4
Hudson	        54.4
Lowell	        54.4
Mattapoisett	54.6
West Brookfield	54.7
Williamstown	54.7
Attleboro	54.8
Harvard	        54.8
Swansea	        54.9
Townsend	54.9
Berlin	        55
Braintree	55
Raynham	        55
Marlborough	55.1
Tyngsborough	55.1
Westfield	55.1
Charlemont	55.2
Williamsburg	55.2
Millbury	55.4
Wilmington	55.4
Gill	        55.5
Newton	        55.5
North Andover	55.5
Southborough	55.5
Goergetown	55.6
Ashburnham	55.7
Bellingham	55.7
Ipswich	        55.7
Belchertown	55.8
Freetown	55.8
Amherst	        55.9
Franklin	55.9
Leominster	56
Lunenburg	56
Conway	        56.2
Lanesborough	56.3
Ashby	        56.4
Marshfield	56.4
Northbridge	56.4
Medfield	56.5
Halifax	        56.6
Leyden	        56.6
Wenham	        56.6
Buckland	56.7
Dracut	        56.7
Chesire	        56.8
Framingham	56.9
Methuen	        56.9
Topsfield	56.9
Uxbridge	56.9
Norfolk	        57
Stoughton	57
Holliston	57.1
Peru	        57.1
Hatfield	57.2
Plymouth	57.2
West Tisbury	57.2
Hopkinton	57.3
Hubbardston	57.3
Shelburne	57.5
Bridgewater	57.6
Chesterfield	57.7
Lexington	57.9
Holden	        58.3
Medway	        58.3
Merrimac	58.3
Sutton	        58.3
Dartmouth	58.5
Worthington	58.5
Whately	        58.7
Grafton	        58.9
Lakeville	58.9
Cummington	59
Tewksbury	59.1
New Braintree	59.2
Sunderland	59.3
New Salem	59.5
Plympton	59.5
Dalton	        59.6
Duxbury	        59.6
Rowley	        59.6
Blandford	59.7
Richmond	59.7
Wales	        59.8
Concord	        60
Dighton	        60.1
Granby	        60.1
Boxborough	60.3
Brockton	60.3
West Stockbridge60.3
Deerfield	60.4
Oakham	        60.4
Sturbridge	60.4
Springfield	60.5
Lancaster	60.6
Shutesbury	60.6
Leicester	60.7
Bolton	        60.8
Sharon	        60.8
Wilbraham	60.8
Winchendon	60.8
Dover	        61.1
Rochester	61.1
Acushnet	61.4
Essex	        61.7
Holland	        61.7
Princeton	61.7
Webster	        61.8
Bernardston	62.2
Westhampton	62.3
Pepperell	62.4
Rehoboth	62.5
Wareham	        62.5
Hinsdale	62.6
Groveland	62.7
Sherborn	62.7
Southampton	62.7
Northborough	62.8
Middleton	62.9
Petersham	62.9
Sudbury	        62.9
Colrain	        63
Ashfield	63.1
Dunstable	63.1
Chester	        63.2
Russell	        63.3
Northfield	63.8
Somerset	64.4
Granville	65.3
Montgomery	65.8
Stowe	        65.8
Boxford	        66.1
Leverett	66.3
Longmeadow	66.7
Pelham	        66.7
Carver	        66.8
Hamilton	66.9
Action	        67.1
Windsor	        67.2
Berkley	        67.5
Carlisle	68
Sheffield	68.2
Lawrence	68.8
Hamden	        69.1
Huntington	69.7
Clarksburg	70
Brimfield	70.1
Hancock	        74.2
New Ashford	74.2





4 thoughts on “Let’s crunch some numbers and take a look at that billion dollar BPS budget

  1. If we accept that the public education of children is a common good (and not a business), then the question of how much we should spend on it is a little less murky. What else would one suggest a city spend its resources for? Police and fire, roads and transportation, public parks & recreation, libraries and not much else. (Not the Olympics of 2024 or an Indy Road Race, for sure!) Of these, education must be a priority, one we regard as an investment.

    My own kids have completed their education, both in the public schools and college, but I still want my tax dollars to go to support students in the city of Boston. I want those young people to be educated in traditional public schools, not selective charters, because they deserve fully certified teachers, and because public schools, messy crossroads though they can be, are the foundation of our democracy. I do not want to live in a city that is filled with people who perceive that the deck is stacked against them. I want my neighbors and their children and grandchildren to receive a world class education which enables them to discover their abilities and passions because, selfishly, it makes me more secure. That costs money. We cannot do it on the cheap. We should not try to.

    There is a notion that schools should be run like businesses and that corporate consultants like McKinsey ought to be tapped because they are experts on saving money for businesses. The argument is made that schools will respond to market pressures and if they “fail” they should go out of business. But schools are a public good, not businesses. If the public schools are defunded and stripped of their ability to educate well all of those who show up at the door, what business will step in to fill the void?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Note that the first graph shows both the raw scores and adjusted scores (adjusted for the demographics of the student population – poverty, race, native language and the share of students in special education) to try to make them more comparable across states. So Massachusetts’ results are adjusted downward for the relatively advantaged student population, and (for example) Texas’ scores are adjusted upward for the relatively disadvantaged population.

    But the second graph is presumably not similarly adjusted for Boston’s relatively disadvantaged student population. That is, Boston’s spending would look relatively even lower if the student demographics were taken into account.


  3. Bruce’s comments remind me of some charts I made a couple of years ago. A few things I noted about that year’s data:

    1) Boston had the highest per-pupil foundation budget in the state. The foundation budget is determined using a formula that takes into account student need and cost of living, and is supposed to reflect the minimum that the school district should spend to adequately educate its student population. In other words, the state had higher spending expectations for Boston than any other district.

    2) When you looked at per-pupil net school spending, Boston ranked 48th out of 231 districts. This was not adjusted for need, it was just the raw net school spending figure. As you note, it’s not like Boston is some kind of outlier.

    3) If you took need into account by looking at each school district’s net school spending as a percentage of its foundation budget, Boston was actually below the state median.

    Now, there are certainly caveats about this analysis. For one thing, it’s not at all clear to me that net school spending as a percentage of the foundation budget is necessarily the best way to adjust spending to account for student need. It also worked in BPS’s favor that I looked at net school spending (costs that go towards education) rather than total school spending (all school department costs, including things like transportation), because one very real budget issue that BPS has is that its net school spending is a smaller percentage of its total budget than most districts. Still, it does provide some interesting context, and it begins to show you that $1B may not be as outrageous a figure as many people initially assume.


  4. […] This is my reaction to the recent OpEd written by Mayor Walsh and Superintendent Chang. In it, Mayor Walsh highlights the new challenges facing the school district and the unprecedented financial support he has allocated to the school system. Given inflation, that should come as no surprise to him or taxpayers. Every year, assuming growth, costs rise. Some years they may rise further than others but if we are growing as a city, increased expenses are part of the equation. He also states that he has allocated an unprecedented 1.1 billion dollars including 13.5 million more than last year towards education. If my math is correct, that is approximately $241.07 per student. He also fails to acknowledge it is smaller increase than previous years, that Boston’s education budget as percentage of the city’s budget is smaller than approximately 60% of other cities and towns in Boston and that across the state, public education accounts for, on average 53% of town budget allocations. For a detailed analysis: https://publicschoolmama.com/2015/12/29/lets-crunch-some-numbers-and-take-a-look-at-that-billion-doll…. […]


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