The cost of education

9th 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 9th District

Hamilton County is divided into nine legislative districts. This brief encompasses schools located in the 9th District, which is represented by Steve Highlander on the Hamilton County Board of Education and Chester Bankston on the County Commission.

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

Download the 9th District brief (PDF).

School Enrollment Per-student spending
Brown Middle 472 $6,801
Central High 884 $7,092
Harrison Elementary 377 $6,480
Hunter Middle 755 $6,323
Ooltewah Elementary 839 $5,707
Ooltewah High 1,414 $6,231
Ooltewah Middle 792 $6,726
Snowhill Elementary 509 $6,584
Wallace A. Smith Elementary 634 $7,141
Wolftever Creek Elementary 415 $7,959

School spending and student outcomes

The chart below shows the percentage of students in 9th 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 9th 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.