Kamras Feeds a False Narrative

Jason Kamras

In a Sunday op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond city school Superintendent Jason Kamras opined on “institutional racism” in Virginia schools. In building his case for the existence of such injustice, he cited the supposed disparity in funding, writing:

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, Virginia’s highest poverty school divisions — which serve large percentages of children of color — receive 8.3 percent less in per pupil funding than the state’s wealthiest districts. Put plainly: the students who should be getting more are actually getting less. If all the children in our poorest school divisions were white, I am certain the commonwealth would have found a way to fix its convoluted and unjust funding policies so that our lower-income communities received more.

Really? Let’s look at the numbers. The following data come from the Superintendent’s Annual Report for Virginia based on FY 2016 budgets:

Per pupil spending
City of Richmond — $13,843
Hanover County — $9,772
Henrico County — $9,644
Chesterfield County — $9,592

Looking at statewide averages is meaningless. There is a wide gulf in the cost of living and prevailing wages between the wealthy localities of Northern Virginia and the less affluent counties of the Rest of Virginia. High spending in NoVa skews the statewide numbers. The relevant comparison in ascertaining disparities in funding is between schools districts in the same labor market. In the Richmond metropolitan area, the City of Richmond spends roughly 40% more per pupil than its labor-market peers in Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield with predominantly white schools systems.

(Kamras’ claims also overlook the fact that Virginia’s school funding formula is designed to transfer wealth from affluent localities to poorer localities, and it ignores the larger question of the relationship between per-pupil spending and educational outcomes, which is essentially nil.) 

The problem in Richmond schools is not a lack of money — it’s a history of disgracefully inept administration. If Kamras has a saving grace as an education executive, it’s that he implicitly acknowledges the wastefulness of Richmond school spending in his latest budget. He has proposed whacking 49 positions out of the bloated central administrative staff to save $3.2 million — part of $13 million he wants to cut out of the $300 million budget.

I applaud Kamras’ willingness to make tough budgetary decisions such as cutting staff and reallocating funds to such necessities as bathroom maintenance. But his rhetoric on institutional racism in school funding is intellectually dishonest. If Kamras were President Trump, the fact-checking brigades would award him five Pinocchios and accuse him of lying. Perhaps the rhetoric gives Kamras the political cover he needs to make the hard choices, but it serves a false and destructive narrative of racial grievance.

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24 responses to “Kamras Feeds a False Narrative

  1. Here’s the National Center on Education Statistics report that he was quoting from:

    https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018303.pdf page 20

    Table 7. Total revenues per pupil of public elementary and secondary school systems, by poverty quartile and state: Fiscal year 2015

    Virginia – total revenues per pupil
    12,350 All districts
    13,199 Low poverty districts
    12,182 High poverty Districts

    Percent difference was calculated by dividing the difference between revenues per pupil in the high-poverty districts from that in low-poverty districts by the revenues per pupil in high-poverty districts. A positive percentage indicates that the high-poverty districts have more revenues per pupil than the low-poverty districts. A negative percentage indicates that the high-poverty districts have less revenues per pupil than the low-poverty districts

    The bottom of page 20 explains their calculations : NOTE: Total revenues per pupil amount includes federal, state, and local revenues.
    go to page 20 to read the full note –

  2. As a city taxpayer for a decade now, I was infuriated by Kamras’ piece. I wanted to respond and was too angry, afraid I might become intemperate. He went on to complain about the lack of advanced classes in the high schools, and complained that was the result of racism. Really? Who have been the leaders of this city and its schools in recent decades? The leadership has reflected the population.

    The same Commentary section of the Times-Dispatch had a piece on a new Catholic school, sucking yet more talented young people with motivated parents out of the system run by Kamras. Earlier in the week a special section had run ads from more than 20 private schools filled with students fleeing from public education. The flight will continue. Kamras blaming racism is not helping those city schools at all.

  3. You know racism is especially bad when the last 4 elected mayors, who have all been black, have hired these white supremacists to run the schools in Richmond.
    Did Senator Kaine have a hand in this “obvious” racism when he served on Richmond’s City Council?
    I think we need some investigations and ask the hard questions as to why these Democrats and Democrat-hired administratiors have been so racist towards these underserved children. (Hmmm now that I think about it Kaine does live on Confederate Avenue… coincidence?)
    And I bet we can also tie in the overrepresented city arrest records to again the white supremacist black police chiefs hired by the white supremacist black mayors.
    This racism is some tricky business, one can not trust their eyes. White supremacy hiding in black male Democrat disguise……

  4. This guy is dishonest enough to join the editorial board of the Post. The state superintendent’s report shows Richmond spends $6,187 per student from local funds. Fairfax County spends $10,526. Petersburg spends $2,628. Local officials who are elected by local voters determine this amount.

    State aid, excluding sales tax, equals $4288 for Richmond, $2236 for Fairfax County, and $5878 for Petersburg. Sales tax per student is pretty much a wash – $1049, $1031 and $1040 respectively. Uncle Sam providers $2522, $606 and $2319 respectively. Richmond spends $13,843; Fairfax $14,399 and Petersburg $12,068. If one considers the difference in cost of living, I suspect both Richmond and Petersburg spend about the same or even more per student than Fairfax County and have more coming from non-local taxpayers.

    Further these are per-student averages. All three districts spend a lot more on special education students and low income students. Federal Title 1 money and the state equivalent money can only be spent on qualified students.

    I don’t have time to go through the National Center on Education Statistics report but it strikes that the numbers in Virginia don’t show what Kamras claims especially when differences in cost of living are considered. Like I say, Kamras would fit in perfectly with the Post’s editorial board.

  5. Why are all these problems of all these people always the fault of white racists?

  6. Putting black folks in charge of a lot of other black folks who do not have good educations/good jobs – won’t fix anything.

    The racism that did damage prior generations of people is largely gone – but not the effects of it – that are continuing.

    People can blather all they want but the bottom line is if your parent had a crappy substandard education that many blacks received in Virginia well into the 1980s… and subsequently can find only low-income work – it’s going to impact their kids as well as the schools and taxpayers who fund them.

    Those who have better incomes will flee to the counties to find a better life and better schools for their kids.

    the harsh reality also means that higher quality educators will also gravitate to the counties where the parents are better educated and have good incomes, and the kids are easier to teach because parents coach them. Teachers of these kids are less likely to get scapegoated for kids not achieving and urban areas like Richmond get the dregs and ironically even have to pay a premium to get folks willing to teach in these schools with high low-income demographics.

    Like I said – you can blame someone else for this and walk away or you can be honest about the reality and what we have to do to really address the issue.

    To many of us just won’t deal with the realities… much easier to blame

  7. I completely agree with the G that most of RVA’s school issues are crappy parent problems along with rockstar levels of administrative mismanagement of the funds available and nothing to do with race.
    But the Superintendent went to racism.
    That being said RVA should give in and raise taxes to prove they aren’t racists. Hell they should double their school funding to double prove they are woke. That’ll work.

  8. If taxpayers forked over an extra $2500 per low-income student per year, for five years, would results change? Would the extra money somehow compensate for parents who pay no attention to their kids’ education? Would the money compensate for fathers who haven’t seen their kids in five years? Would the extra money compensate for parents who encourage their kids to drop out of high school so they could bring in extra money for the family? Would the extra money compensate for kids who do drugs and often skip school?

    And what if the administration and school board members had to produce a minimum result with the extra money or face five years in jail (or suffer some other major personal consequence for failure)? I suspect few school systems would sign up for the extra money.

    • Nope.
      But it would allow for some virtue signaling and guilt erasure.
      And maybe Kamras would get a raise from his $250k salary. Which when I checked the database is approximately $47k higher than the highest paid employee at the Dept of Ed. Ain’t that something, a privelaged male making crazy bank while the underprivileged kids have roofs that leak at school.

  9. “The problem in Richmond schools is not a lack of money — it’s a history of disgracefully inept administration.”

    Jim, are you aware of any high-poverty school districts in the United States that are doing well?

    Whenever I think about public K12, especially high-poverty districts, I think about the fact that a typical student spends only about 13% of his/her waking hours in school from birth through high school graduation.

    • I can’t think of any high-poverty districts that do well. But that’s not the point here. Richmond is falling short even after adjusting for the poverty of its student body. In other words, it’s doing worse than other high-poverty school districts — although Petersburg does give Richmond a run for its money in that regard.

    • John Butcher followed up on the Kamras article in a blog post today. Here is his graph showing the correlation between the percentage of disadvantaged kids in a school system and the SOL pass rates:

      The gold dot is Richmond — high percentage of disadvantaged students but much lower pass rate than districts with comparable percentages.

      Read John’s full exegesis here.

  10. It is unfortunate that many people are now, somewhat gratuitously, throwing around the “racism” charge. It offends many people who are not racist and, to some extent, is an easy way to avoid dealing with tough, hard problems. And, the “racism” charge is undercut by the fact, pointed out in several of the comments here, that blacks have been in charge of the political and school bureaucracies in Richmond for many years.

    That being said, racism is at the core of the problems with the Richmond school system. It began with the white flight from the schools when the courts ordered them to be integrated. Those white Richmonders who could afford it put their children in private schools. Others left for the suburbs. I have seen this unstated prejudice in my neighborhood in Henrico County. When we moved here over 30 years ago, the family next door was preparing to sell their house because their children were old enough to go to high school and the neighborhood was in the Henrico High School attendance zone. The clear implication in their explanation was the fact that the school population of that school was majority black. Paradoxically, one of the reasons we had chosen a house in the neighborhood was that it was in the Henrico district. We had met with the principal and had been impressed. Our daughter received an excellent education there, which included encountering a much wider diversity of students than she would have in the Hermitage High School district or the West End that we left. But, that was long been the pattern: when children approached high school age, the families moved. Since the school attendance zones have been changed and we are now in the Hermitage zone, I have noticed more teenagers in the neighborhood.

    One prerequisite for strong schools is active involvement by parents. They encourage and push their children to attend school and work hard. They also support the teachers and administration, while holding them accountable. For many reasons, many parents in low-income areas are not active in the schools: they are single parents and they are exhausted from just trying to make ends meet and maintain a household; they are poorly educated themselves and do not know how to deal with a school bureaucracy; they may feel intimidated by teachers and administrators better educated than they are, etc. Although he overstated it, the superintendent did hit on a key point: if the upper and upper middle class whites in Richmond had their children in public schools, those schools would not have reached the physical state they are now in.

    Although racial attitudes have improved tremendously, we have now reached a point of having a self-reinforcing negative system. Having more white children and parents from the upper and upper middle class would improve the schools, but those parents and children avoid the public schools because they are not very good. It is hard to blame parents for wanting the best schools possible for their children; it is difficult be a lone pioneer.

    Kamras and others do have a point in their complaint about the state financing formula. Below is a table I constructed on state aid for education, based on data from the FY 2017 Superintendent’s Report (the latest data available):

    The first item of note is the first row; Richmond’s composite index is higher than that of its neighboring counties. That means it has to put up a larger percentage from local funds of the minimum amount the state says is required to meet the basic needs than the counties do. That accounts for Richmond receiving less per student from the state for basic aid than the counties do. However, basic aid is just one of many categories of state funding for K-12 education. The General Assembly recognized long ago the special needs of localities with a large percentage of students from low-income households. For funding for “Special Education” and “Prevention, Intervention, and Remediation”, the city receives proportionately more per student than the counties do and in funding from the “At Risk” pot, the city receives more, in absolute terms, than either of the counties. Thus, in the end, the city received more state aid per student than the counties.

    Rather than having the special needs of localities with high percentages of special needs students in their schools built into the basic aid formula, those localities have to depend on the governor and the legislature providing funding in the more discretionary special, add-on categories. It was the At-Risk add-on category for which the General Assembly initially proposed cuts in the Governor’s recommendation and it was these proposals that the Black Legislative Caucus complained about.

    I do not pretend to know the answer to these problems. In my more pessimistic moods, I think they are intractable. But I am generally optimistic and I feel the basic answer to the problem of poverty lies in education.

    Children from poor households start school with many obvious disadvantages, compared to those from more affluent households. They are not read to at home; they do not have much exposure to books; they are hungry and research has shown that it is more difficult to learn if you are hungry; they come from dysfunctional, often abusive families, and they have a lot of pent up anger as a result, etc. As a result, they often present challenges for teachers and their achievement in school is slower. To help these children overcome their obstacles, we need good teachers in those schools.

    In the basic aid formula, the state funds an average teacher’s salary. Localities with greater resources pay teachers more. Localities with fewer resources pay lower salaries. Therefore, localities with fewer resources get fewer of the good teachers and do not keep them for long. We need to find a way to help localities with large percentages of students from low-income households get good teachers, pay them well, and keep them. That would be a good start.

  11. This is just sad. Failing to note the differences in cost of living across districts is nothing short of deception. Failing to account for the costs of ESOL based on where students who speak English as a second language live is more subtle but something I’d expect a Richmond City School Superintendent to understand.

    I award Kamras three Herrings for his level of dissembling.

    And Jim is exactly right. This is classic SJW – fail at your job, invent a false narrative then cry racism.

  12. Pingback: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Change the Subject – CrankysBlog

  13. A correspondent, who asks to remain anonymous, forwarded the following to me:

    Kamras didn’t only mislead about school funding.

    Kamras also falsely claims that the fact that blacks in Virginia are suspended at three times their proportion of the population is due to “institutional racism,” not “differences in students’ behavior,” citing a 2012 Office for Civil Rights “study” that instances of black students being treated worse were due to differential treatment (that “study” was actually a ruling involving a Delaware school district, the Christina School District, not any district in Virginia). Kamras writes, “According to the Virginia Department of Education, in 2015, African-American students received 60 percent of all long-term suspensions but they made up only 23 percent of the commonwealth’s schools [sic].”

    Contrary to Kamras’s claim in “?institutional racismFighting Institutional racism can start with our schools,” Column, Feb. 17, “a study by John Paul Wright and other professors in 2014 in the Journal of Criminal Justice, found that “prior problem behavior” explains the differences in suspension rate, not racism.

    Students themselves admit to “differences in students’ behavior.” As education expert Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute notes, black students themselves admit to getting into fights at a higher rate than whites do. One source he was citing was the National Center for Education Statistics’ “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016,” on page 87, Table 13.2, available on the web. As Petrilli notes, black students are much more likely to admit to “going to class late,” or getting ” in a fight.” See Michael Petrilli, Why Disparate Impact Theory Is a Bad Fit for School Discipline, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jan. 10, 2018.

    The meme about schools with low-income students being underfunded is itself a false one. The schools with the lowest funding are those with mostly students from middle-income households, not low-income households, as law professor and civil-rights commissioner Gail Heriot explains at Instapundit (about funding being lowest for schools in impoverished areas) was recently peddled in a really misleading way by Jason Kamras, the Richmond schools superintendent, in a recent op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. …

  14. “False narrative then cry racism”? Why, what irony! Look at what’s leading the pack for Oscars: “BlacKkKlansman” — there’s popular culture in a nutshell.

    Dick notes that Kamras made a good point: “if the upper and upper middle class whites in Richmond had their children in public schools, those schools would not have reached the physical state they are now in.” Northern Virginia has witnessed that attitude up close across the River over the past 40 years or so, watching D.C. Public Schools decline, experiencing the desperate exporting of kids (white and black) to any decent private or public school that had a seat for them, and now, the D.C. School’s painfully, implausibly slow climb back to normalcy through a political insurrection and Congressionally-imposed control board and charter schools and internal reforms and an increasingly dedicated bunch of teachers and even (gasp!) decent administrators struggling to retain a diversity of students and create a few notable success stories among the regular schools.

    Richmond should take note of D.C.’s travails: there is light at the end of the white-flight tunnel, but it’s far away and faint and extremely hard work to get there, and along the way people have to abandon the excuse of racism and look hard at what’s really happening in their own community. Poverty, yes; maladministration, yes; but racism is not itself the cause.

  15. “If the upper and upper middle class whites in Richmond had their children in public schools, those schools would not have reached the physical state they are now in.”

    Let us also note that upper and upper-middle class *black* families in Richmond don’t put their kids in Richmond public schools either. They, like whites, want their kids in an environment where they can learn. This is not about race. It’s about putting kids in places where the toilets work, the roofs don’t leak, and trouble makers aren’t always disrupting the class.

    As Kamras has demonstrated, the failure to maintain Richmond school facilities is a matter of political priorities, not money. to his credit, he has found the money. If you want to blame someone for the woes of Richmond city schools, don’t blame white flight — blame inner-city political machines, patronage, waste, and politically correct dogma.

  16. Kamras’s commentary is spot on. What is truly amusing and sad is the response of the author and commenters who want to pretend that racism doesn’t exist in the public school system.

    For starters look at white officials who schemed to destroy Jackson Ward, a thriving African American neighborhood back in the day, and who used vital public money to build a system of superhighways that would take former white residents from Richmond to their new, mostly white neighborhoods in Henrico and Chesterfield and their all white schools. How can anyone in their right minds not look at Massive Resistance and see that it was institutional racism on a massive scale? Why is it that Richmond’s public schools have such a lousy record? Could there be a link between the state’s hatful policies 50 or 60 years ago and today? Where does a bunch of mostly white, well-fed guys come off tut-tutting that there is no racism? Don’t forget the author once ran a cartoon of a Mexican immigrant who looks like a space alien while wearing a sombrero and holding tacos. Know any real Mexicans? I do. I wonder how they would feel? Yet no one sees just how institutional and deep rooted this racism is.

    • Tisk, tisk Peter. I’m on your side regarding the depth and “recentness” of institutional racism in Virginia. However, Kamras tried to assert that the differences in per-student spending for education demonstrated institutional racism. Yet he failed to adjust for differences in cost of living and failed to adjust for ESOL expenditures. Sorry but that would have earned Kamras a failing grade from the “high minority student” public school where I graduated (West Potomac High School’s student body was 38.65% White, 16.31% Black, 34.76% Hispanic or Latino, 6.75% Asian and 3.53% Other)

      #FakeAnalysis

  17. Racism my &&&. The composite index is supposed to measure the locality’s ability to raise money through the real estate tax. Districts like Richmond that have a lot of commercial property have a greater ability to raise real estate tax money than do districts that don’t have a lot of commercial property.

    I live in a minority majority county with more poor kids than most Virginia school districts have students. Fairfax County doesn’t get much extra money for its low-income students. Why should Richmond?

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