Monday, May 11, 2015

Spending in Baltimore

There's a number I've heard kicking around the past two weeks:

Supposedly, that's the amount the city of Baltimore spends on each of its students.

Most of the people I've heard trotting out that number have a vested interest in conservative, "limited government," politics and they have used it as proof that more government spending is not the answer.


The spending per student number come from the Census Bureau, based on their 2010 efforts. It takes the total amount of spending, minus other sources of income, and divides that by the number of students in Baltimore.

When the number was released, The Baltimore Sun clarified that the actual amount of spending per student is closer to $5,190:
"That amount is different from what the Census Bureau reported because the school system takes out other expenses, such as transportation costs and special-education services, before allocating money to individual schools. In addition, the school system provides extra funding for certain groups of students, such as those in special education and dropout-prevention programs."
But even if you accept the larger number, that's not the end of the story, because Baltimore spends money on other things, like cops and prisoners.

Last February, the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative published a study that tracked spending per prisoner in Baltimore. Of all the inmates serving time in prison, 33% are from Baltimore. The city and state spend $300 million dollars on all of Baltimore's 7,795.

That's an average of $38486 per prisoner, or $23,003 more than is spent on students.

The highest percentage of Baltimoreans incarcerated from a single neighborhood live in Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, where Freddie Gray lived. $17 million is spent on the 458 people in prison from the area. About $37,117 per person.

WalletHub reports that Baltimore spends half a billion dollars on its police force. So far, I haven't found any reports on how that breaks down on a per officer basis, but the Baltimore city budget is freely available online so feel free to do your own math. One thing the WalletHub report makes clear is that the spending has little impact on the crime rate. So where does that money go?

Take a look at Google Maps satellite view of Baltimore's suburbs: Catonsville, Towson, Parkville, Rosedale. Unlike the abandoned houses, and torn apart blocks, these suburban streets are tree lined and spread out so every home has a decent piece of land to sit on.

Another number I've heard kicking around since the Baltimore uprising is 75%. That's the percentage of police officers who live in Baltimore's suburbs, who take their paychecks from the city residents' taxes and fines and exploited labor and spend it on above ground pools and vacations to Disney World.

Oh, and Klan memberships. That city of Rosedale I mentioned earlier, happens to be home to a group called the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In 2013, they told USA Today:
"If we don't stop Barack Obama, if we don't stop this government all together that is running us into the ground, working us like dogs, so that they can keep taking it and giving it to somebody else, we're not going to have a country," said Richard Preston, imperial wizard of the 2-year-old Confederate White Knights of Rosedale, Md., said.
For comparison, this is what Rosedale looks like:

And this is Sandtown:

It doesn't look like its the residents of Rosedale who have the fruits of their work taken away and given to someone else.

In fact, it looks like just the opposite.

The problem with the WalletHub ROI calculation is it calculates the crime rate in the city, but most of the police officers live in the suburbs, and there, not only is the crime low, but all that government spending stimulates an economy that literally could not survive on its own.

So, perhaps it's not that Baltimore spends too much on its students, but that it spends twice as much per person locking up the students and their parents.
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