Mobile County students’ performance lags behind those in Baldwin County in high school but, according to the non-profit Center for American Progress (CAP), Mobile County is more efficient than Baldwin at educating students.
The CAP’s study dug into thousands of districts across the country and used data, including standardized test scores; the number of underprivileged, special education or English as a second language students (who cost schools more to educate) in the districts and the budgets of those districts to rate schools on efficiency.
The study found that Mobile and Baldwin County schools spend similar amounts on each student and those students reach similar levels of achievement but, by high school, Baldwin County students achieve state standards for Math and Reading more than those on the west side of the bay.
Still, the group concludes that Baldwin County is less efficient at providing an education for its students.
Study: Baldwin Co. not spending efficiently
According to the report, Mobile’s school district gets high marks for student performance compared to the cost to taxpayers, while Baldwin County schools perform slightly worse by that standard — students are still high achieving, but at a higher cost to citizens.
Baldwin County schools spend about $8,400 per student each year while Mobile County schools spend about $8,700. The difference of $300 is enough to make Baldwin County’s school district 34th in the state in spending per student, where Mobile County ranks at 73rd on that statistic alone.
However, after adjusting for cost of living and student needs in the district, the CAP ranks Mobile County at 43rd in the state, where Baldwin drops dramatically to 92nd. The CAP says that in order to calculate these rankings, they take into account not only the amount districts spend, but also the cost of living in the area, needs of students that traditionally cost more to educate (i.e. those from low-income households, those with special needs or disabilities or those who speak english as a second language.)
Because of the “academic achievement they get for each dollar spent” the group ranks Baldwin County’s return on investment at a lower grade than Mobile’s. For what they bring in, the CAP says, Mobile County is more efficient than Baldwin County.
Funding sources differ dramatically
Schools in Mobile County receive about 25 percent less in local revenue per student, or about $2,549 per student, where Baldwin County gets about $5,151 in local revenue per student.
In 2011, Baldwin County, a school district with about half the student population of Mobile County, received about $145,264,000 in revenue from local sources — over half of their total revenue in 2011. Mobile County’s local revenue only generates about 27% of its budget. The bulk (54%) of Mobile County’s budget comes from state money, while Baldwin County received just over a third of the state dollars that Mobile County does, about $105 million. Mobile gets $318 million.
That divide is also pronounced on a federal level, Mobile County gets about $70 million more in federal revenue than Baldwin County.
Baldwin County students achieve more, Mobile on the rise
In a FOX10 News special report earlier this year, Baldwin County Reporter Hal Scheurich compared Mobile and Baldwin County in a number of areas, including schools, and found that Baldwin County students in eighth grade generally perform better on standardized tests than Mobile County students.
A greater number of students also finish high school in Baldwin County than those in Mobile county. Between 2012 and 2013, however, Mobile County high schools made a jump in graduation rates from 70 percent to 75, according to superintendent Martha Peek.
“We anticipate it increasing to an even higher percentage this year. Also, our signature academies that our students are moving into and excelling in. Our elementary students that are having great success with reading, literacy and mathematics,” Peek said in May.
The data from the CAP back up Peek’s statement. Fourth graders in Mobile county perform better on standardized tests, but those results, especially in reading, start to decline by grade 8. By high school, Mobile County student achievement in Math and Reading lags behind Baldwin County by 6 percent.