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All Schools Are Not Equal

Nor Should Be Your Marketing Investment

May 8, 2019

By Bob Stimolo

Four decades of marketing to schools and educators have convinced me that the affluence of the community in which a school is located is critical to the success of any marketing effort. Numerous clients have contended that funding programs such as Title I create a level playing field with schools in wealthier communities but I have never found this to be the case. Schools in wealthier communities spend Title I money on materials whereas schools in poorer communities spend it on teacher salaries.

Blame it on No Child Left Behind

After 16 years of the disaster known as No Child Left Behind, our education system is polarized. The schools in affluent communities have more money, better teachers, and administrators that are more able. In addition, these able administrators receive more funding from grants including programs such as Title I.

No Child Left Behind was a program intended to bring equality to our education system, but it did exactly the opposite. When a school was tagged as “failing” the better educators left for better schools. Sixteen years later, we have the better educators in the best schools and the struggling educators in the worst schools.

EdBuild to the Rescue

Understanding school funding and, in particular, understanding discretionary funding for materials and programs has always been a challenge. An organization called EdBuild (edbuild.org) is trying to make sense of it. Founded in June of 2014 by Rebecca Sibilia, previously Chief Financial Officer for the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, EdBuild is on a mission to ensure equity and adequacy in state and national funding mechanisms.

We Spend $23 Billion More on White Schools

EdWeek education policy writer Daarel Burnette II has written two articles about the organization and its claims regarding the disparity in school funding based on whether schools are predominantly white or nonwhite. His first article is entitled United States Spends $23 Billion More on White Schools than Nonwhite. According to EdBuild, an analysis of the local and state tax revenue spent in the 2015-16 school year shows nonwhite school districts receiving $2,226 less funding per student than white districts.

Bob Stimolo - Spring 2019 Chart

The report also states, “There are over 13,000 traditional public school systems in the United States, serving an average of 3,500 students. However, the average high-poverty nonwhite district serves almost 10,500 students - a student body that is three times larger than the national average. Primarily white districts, on the other hand, enroll only 1,500 students on average and high-poverty white districts are even smaller.”

A second EdWeek article by the same author is entitled School Spending is Broken. So Why is it So Hard to Replace Funding Formulas? In it he writes, “The way states distribute billions of dollars in school aid is counterproductive, outdated, and inefficient, according to a growing number of politicians, school finance experts, practitioners, and advocates… Without the courts pressuring states to fork more money over to schools… governors and legislatures, it turns out, don't have the political capital or revenue to do it on their own.”

Follow the Money

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is no significant enrollment growth in the near future. One of the challenges we face as school marketers is how to achieve growth in a stagnant market. It makes sense that if we consider all schools equally qualified as potential buyers our profit and loss statements will look as stagnant as the projected enrollment growth. However, if we focus on the schools that have the most money, and in particular that have the most in discretionary funds, we stand a chance to improve our company financials.

Location, Location, Location

All of the major education databases have a selection that rates the affluence of the community in which a school is located. They also have selections regarding the ethnic composition of the student population.  Interestingly, in most cases this data comes from the United States census and not from the compilation of data from districts and schools themselves.

Whereas my experience with the selection of community affluence has been very positive, my experience with the selection of expenditure per pupil has not. My conclusion?  Success is not about the demographics of the school. It is about the demographics of where the school is located.