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Individual spending a key factor

By By Robert Blankenship, Special to The Advance
(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles focusing on school funding and how it is affecting area students.)
Often when looking at school systems, a connection can be made between success and spending per student. As local funds for schools continue to decrease, so does the amount spent per student.
While the schools that make up the Brewton City School system ranks 24th in the state in spending per student, the county school system is further down the list at number 58. There are 127 school systems in the state.
According to the latest numbers released by the State Department of Education, Brewton City Schools spends $1,499 per student. County students get $951.13 each. The top school system in the state is the Homewood City school system at $5,174. The lowest is Roanoke City at $302.
The money used to determine dollars per student are made up of only local revenues. Money issued from the state or federal government are not included.
While some systems have proven that success can be obtained dispite a large pool of revenue, the connection between funds and success is still there.
"Money does matter," said Escambia County Superintendent Melvin "Buck" Powell. "You can look at children and how they scored and see the correlation."
Powell said students who attend one of the highest ranked schools placed 3.5 percentile points better on the ACT test than those at the bottom.
Elementary students at the lowest-ranked schools who took the Stanford 9 scored 21.5 percentile points lower than the highest-ranked schools. Third graders taking the writing assessment test also showed a connection as those at the bottom scored 23 percentile points lower than those at the top.
Powell said spending per student shows a lot about school systems.
"It can be a lot of different things," he said. "It can show the level of professional development for teachers, supplies and textbooks."
Powell used Flomaton High School as an example of what low dollars per student can mean to a system.
"At Flomaton we do not have a lot of subjects for students to choose from," he said. "They have math, English, sciences, social studies … with more money we could offer students more educational opportunities."
In Escambia County, local funds consist primarily of oil severance money and local sales taxes. Over the past few years, revenues from oil severance has continued to decrease. That means, the only way to increase spending per student would be to raise taxes or find another way to locally fund the school system.
In the Escambia County system, the schools within the City of Atmore has a higher spending per student than other schools in the county. That is due to a one cent sales tax within the city that is used for Atmore schools only.
"Atmore has always had art, music and other classes that are funded through an Atmore sales tax," Powell said. "Over the years, we have tried to add some of these programs at W.S Neal High School and Middle School. But, if the funding becomes unavailable, those programs are the first to go."
Powell used the W.S. Neal pre-med program as an example. That program, which gave students an opportunity to learn by working with health care services, was cut this year due to lack of funds.
While spending per student does not include state money, proration and reduced funding does have an impact.
"Every penny cut we have to make up," he said. "After so long, that nest egg is wiped out and our nest egg will be wiped out next year."
Powell said he knows Escambia County will never be able to compete with Homewood and some of the other systems in larger cities. But, added that he though the students of Escambia deserve better.
"We can not compete with the Homewoods and Hoovers. Our people do not have the same incomes or opportunities. But, I do think we can do better."