Richest school districts are within commuting distance of New York City

by Grace

I live in a town bordered by two of the richest school districts in the country.

24/7 Wall St. used the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2006 to 2010 to measure the economic conditions of more than 10,000 unified school districts across the United States. After eliminating the districts with fewer than 10 school-aged children, those that are not unified and those that do not provide a K-12 curriculum, we identified the 10 districts with the highest median income among residents and the 10 with the lowest median income.

Other information was also gathered, including academic performance and education levels of residents.  The results are not surprising.

Residents that live in wealthy school districts have among the best schools in the nation based on graduation rates, test scores and independent ratings of academic success. Children who attend these schools are more likely to earn a college degree than the national average.

All ten of the richest school districts except for one are within commuting distance of New York City.  Here are the two that are next door to me.

9) Bronxville Union Free School District, N.Y.
> Median household income: $178,465
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 55.6%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 1.8%
> Expenditure per student: $27,980
> Pct. local funding: 84%

Not only is median household income in Bronxville an impressive $178,465, but over half of all households earn more than $200,000 a year. The average homeowner pays $43,000 in property taxes each year, which the district uses to fund 84% of the school budget. This year, Newsweek ranked Bronxville High School as the fourth-best public high school in the Northeast, due in part to the school’s 100% graduation and college matriculation rates.

1) Scarsdale Union Free School District, N.Y.
> Median household income: $238,000
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 64.3%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 0%
> Expenditure per student: $26,742
> Pct. local funding: 89%

With a median income of $238,000, the Scarsdale Union Free School District tops 24/7 Wall St.’s list of the wealthiest school districts in the country. In the district, just 35.7% of households earn less $200,000 a year. Because Scarsdale collects an average property tax of approximately $31,000, the district is able to spend a lot on education. Scarsdale provides 89% of funding for its own schools and spends $26,742 per student. The district’s schools are also among the best in the country. About 90% of eighth-grade students at Scarsdale Middle School meet or exceed NYSA’s standards, while in each subsection of the NYSA high school tests at least 90% of Scarsdale High School students had passing grades.

The per student expenditure in our local district is only $23,265.  While the ten richest school districts are concentrated in one area, the ten poorest are scattered in rural locations across the county.

Wide discrepancies in the source of school funding

On a national level, nearly half of all property tax revenue goes to public school funding. As a result, most districts rely heavily on local funding. In the richest school districts, up to 90% of the school district budget is from residents’ taxes. Homeowners in these regions pay an average of $18,000 in Weston, Conn. to $43,000 in Bronxville, N.Y. Bronxville’s average property tax bill alone is more than twice the median household income of any of the poorest school districts on this list. By comparison, as little as 6% of school revenue is generated by local taxes in the poorest school districts, with state and federal funding making up the difference.

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8 Comments to “Richest school districts are within commuting distance of New York City”

  1. The quoted author is clearly innumerate. You can’t have over half the population earning more than the median. Either something was misquoted or the original study is a bogus propaganda piece.

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  2. Oops, didn’t catch that one! Maybe the author meant “average” – several other districts had the same error. I say carelessness and/or innumerate, but I think this is the first time I used this source, AlterNet, a “progressive” news organization. Hmm 🙂

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  3. Very odd – the link to the original article is broken. I checked because I had commented on it a little earlier.

    Here’s the article on another site: http://247wallst.com/2012/06/06/americas-richest-school-districts/

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  4. I agree money accounts for some of the difference in outputs, but I sense other factors are more important. I mean, beyond providing adequate supplies/facilities and good teachers, I’m not sure the extra money makes so much difference.

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  5. I agree the differences in salaries/benefits probably account for most of the differences in spending, given that those costs account for around 85% of these budgets.

    “It is certainly clear that upper middle class towns believe that spending more leads to better outcomes, since they vote for the higher levels.”

    But I think they overestimate the effect of more money because other factors probably play a bigger role. This is observed in many school districts across the country. Scarsdale spends about 10% more on teacher salaries than Mount Vernon does, but its SAT scores are over 50% higher. Bronxville spends about 4% more than Eastchester does, but its scores are 18% higher.

    I know SAT scores are not the only measure of achievement, but based on my observations I believe Eastchester could raise its scores by changing curriculum and teaching methods. And that would not cost one extra dollar.

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  6. I suspect Scarsdale and Bronxville are using teaching methods similar to those of Eastchester. The difference in SAT scores are probably due to several factors, including tutoring and other things related to a higher income population. My bigger point is that curriculum and teaching methods are variables that are in control of the school, do not have high costs, and have significant effects on achievement levels. That’s not to say that Eastchester or Mount Vernon are ever likely to match Scarsdale’s SAT scores, because there are limitations to how much a school can do.

    Related to this and the problems specific to low-income schools, Nikki Hayes’ article, “Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools?” points out that perhaps fewer students would need special education if more direct instruction methods were used. Actually, she includes under-performing gifted students as being poorly served by constructivism. I recently had a conversation with a school employee who pointedly explained how the struggling (pre-classified and classified) students at her school specifically received “direct instruction” instead of whatever (discovery learning) goes on in the regular classrooms. Maybe all schools would have fewer special ed students if teaching methods changed.

    Catherine Johnson asks: “How many kids are on IEPs because they can’t do projects?”

    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2012/06/niki-hayes-part-1-what-is.html

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  7. One example of how SAT scores are influenced by class instruction is how literacy is taught. Explicit grammar instruction, intensive sentence composing, and expository writing are areas that receive short shrift in many schools. Mastery of these topics would go a long way towards raising SAT scores and, by the way, improving overall literacy skills.

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  8. I dunno, I am just not seeing all that much discovery learning in our schools. Except for the silly projects, but those seem to mostly take up parent time. My daughter is particular has an extremely structured, traditional teacher. But my older kids are getting a lot more grammar and expository writing than I ever saw in school!

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