The cost of education

4th District school spending in Hamilton County, Tennessee

How much do we spend on students in Hamilton County? The Tennessee Department of Education estimates that our school system spent $9,728 per student in the 2014–15 school year.

However, that districtwide estimate does not take into account spending variations between schools. The Metro Ideas Project spent the past four months examining school spending data to answer a slightly different question:

How much do we spend on students at every school in Hamilton County?

The answers provide insight into:

  • Equity: Are resources being distributed fairly across schools regardless of students' economic status, race or learning ability?
  • Transparency: Which schools spend more on students? Which ones spend less?
  • Engagement: How can education and community stakeholders make better decisions around spending?
  • Return on investment: What is the relationship between average spending and student achievement?

Our analysis focused on services that directly benefit students like teachers, Title I, transportation and meals. The analysis reflects about 75 percent of the Hamilton County Department of Education's fiscal 2015 budget. Central office spending was excluded from our analysis, as were some spending groups not reported on a school-by-school basis (e.g. building maintenance).

We found that HCDE spends on average $7,200 per student across 72 schools. Learn more about per-student spending in Hamilton County.

About the 4th District

Hamilton County is divided into nine legislative districts. This brief encompasses schools located in the 4th District, which is represented by George Ricks on the Hamilton County Board of Education and Warren Mackey on the County Commission.

For other districts, see our map of school spending or read our other briefs.

Download the 4th District brief (PDF).

School Enrollment Per-student spending
Battle Academy 374 $7,731
Calvin Donaldson Elementary 312 $8,499
Clifton Hills Elementary 530 $6,867
CSAS Lower 360 $9,381
CSAS Upper 638 $6,696
East Lake Academy 527 $7,771
East Lake Elementary 506 $7,160
East Side Elementary 593 $7,134
Hardy Elementary 443 $7,712
Howard School 619 $9,559
Orchard Knob Elementary 591 $6,567
Orchard Knob Middle 466 $7,669
STEM School Chattanooga 190 $7,593

School spending and student outcomes

The chart below shows the percentage of students in 4th District schools who are considered proficient or advanced compared to average per-student spending.

School spending per student compared to county average

The chart below shows how funding for 4th District schools compare to the countywide average of $7,200 per student. The overall county distribution is also included for comparison.

Sources: Hamilton County Department of Education and Tennessee Department of Education


Key takeaways from our research:

  • Some students cost more to educate than others.
  • Schools that are short on money struggle to create optimal learning environments.
  • Schools know their students best but often don't have the opportunity to communicate specific needs to central office or direct resources where they're needed most.
  • HCDE's budget is complex and opaque. It's difficult for the public to understand how spending impacts students and outcomes.

Primary recommendation

Current budgeting practices account for staff, buildings and enrollment numbers, but they do not reflect individual student needs.

Student-based budgeting focuses funds toward students instead of enrollment ratios. It recognizes that some students cost more to educate than others — for example, students from low-income families or those with limited English proficiency — and clearly budgets for them.

Student-based budgeting is student-focused, transparent, efficient and equitable. It encourages optimal learning environments for all students to succeed.

About the Metro Ideas Project

The Metro Ideas Project is an independent, nonprofit research startup devoted to the analysis and design of public policies that help make midsize cities work better for people. Learn more about our work, mission and funding.