kitchen table math, the sequel: Cato on public vs private school spending

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cato on public vs private school spending

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation's five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

They spend what?
by Adam B. Schaeffer


I had no idea how much my own district was spending. I had been dividing the budgeted total by student enrollment, but it turns out we spend more than we budget because we borrow money to pay tax certs. (I think that's how things go - I'm still trying to master budget issues.)

I'd been thinking we were spending a couple hundred dollars over $28K per pupil.

Turns out the real figure is at least $30K and probably closer to $32.

And rising.

14 comments:

Allison said...

Not to nitpick twice in two days, But Cato isn't an acronym. It's the Cato Institute, named for Cato's letters, which were essays that wrote about Locke's work, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, etc. They were written under the pseudonym of Cato (the Republican who stood up to Caesar.)

Allison said...

It's all about observables.

What will it take for people to observe the amount of money being spent by the State?

What would it take for people to understand how much money is really spent on schools?

What will it take for the school spending bubble to burst?

If not now, with plummeting home values and plummeting tax receipts, then when?

lgm said...

It will take bankruptcy. The voters who are actually not gov't employees, receivers of gov't disability, gov't retirees, or reeivers of unchecked IDEA spending are the minority. They're being outvoted by the self-interest groups who could care less if others starve or have to go into foreclosure. In my area, the town gov't, business leaders and several citizens have stood up and demanded fiscal responsibility. They're being ignored. The lights will be on in the McMansions of the gov't employees and the party will continue until the money is gone. Or the board gets cojones and hires someone from Bentonville to check the union. The populace wants a wage & benefit rollback, starting five years ago.

SteveH said...

Around our parts, the money angle will not fly. More money = better and less money = worse. That's what they think. Besides, there are too many money people who don't care much for education. You will never be able to position yourself as a less money + better education person. At best, you could argue for a better education, but demand proof that it needs to cost more.

One problem is that if the public schools somehow managed to fix themselves and get it right, many more kids would stay in the public schools and not go off to private schools. The cost per student might drop, but the total cost to the town would go up. In our town, 20% - 25% of the kids go to schools paid for by their parents. If a town really wants to save money, a better way would be to make the schools worse. Money is a tough angle to use for improving education.

Luke said...

I've been saying for a while that if the government gave me the money to spend on educating my kids how I saw fit, with four kids I could stay home with my wife and family, buy each student the most expensive homeschool curriculum and still make six figures.

Yeah. My private University degree didn't even cost that much. [sigh]

~Luke

Anonymous said...

Did you ever hear the saying that the real purpose of school is to employ teachers (and other staff) and that children learn is an unintended consequence?

---

In my state we hear about the interest all the time. Interest paid on loans to build the building, expand the school, renovate, etc.

The legal phrase escapes me now but we hear this phrase all the time. In my state the schools go by town/city (not district). We pay property tax to the town/city and the education budget is separate from the municipal budget. We are told "only X percent of this education budget is for (that term that I'm forgetting) and the rest is non-negotiable. We are told, the teacher contracts mandate X in raises that is non-negotiable and we have to pay out X in debt services on the buildings. Thus only Y amount is up for discussion.

Our property taxes are going up 9-10% every single year.

I had a discussion with a teacher employed in Greenwich CT two days ago. She was complaining that the town was discussing not giving them a cost of living increase and what could be done about this? My reply was my DH works in the private sector. He was told his work load is going up 50% and despite an excellent performance review almost everyone in the company is not getting a raise, not cost of living raise, not a good performance raise, not a raise for being given more work, as the company, a public company, have a larger profit on paper and to keep the shareholders happy. I told her that is how it works in the private sector---that is how those workers "have to live" plus we get 9-10% property tax raise when 90% of our budget goes to education and giving teachers "cost of living" raises etc. She just raised her eyebrows at me.

In a different town I was elected to the town council. I sat on the education committee. Much of what goes on with schools is indeed in the hands of the school administrators. They threaten us with binding arbirtration if we don't give the teachers the raises they want. Binding arbitration fees are paid by the TOWN (not the teacher's union or the teachers themselves) also the person who makes the decision on the raise is a retired teacher. Bias?!? We were told the town always loses in binding arbitration yet the legal fees can be expsensive, and sometimes after binding arbitration the raise is HIGHER than originally asked for, and the town MUST pay it. This is highway robbery.

Catherine Johnson said...

You will never be able to position yourself as a less money + better education person.

Hah!

There's where you're wrong.

Ed and I have done exactly that - though by dint of years of letter-writing & post-writing.

The fact that Ed is a professor at NYU and is paying out of pocket to send his son to a Catholic high school with far lower per-pupil funding underscores the point.

With New York state's "Response to Intervention" law bearing down upon us, we are repeatedly making the point that remediation is always more expensive than simply delivering an effective education in the first place.

Did I post that great slogan someone put up on a poster during the first fields vote?

I think I did.

"Education, not remediation."

Using balanced literacy and having upwards of 20% of your kids struggling to read is more expensive than using synthetic phonics and having only 5% struggling.

Within the realm of medicine, I think many have absorbed the idea that more expensive care is not necessarily better care - and may be worse care. (Right? That's my sense...)

The same argument holds for public education.

Is having LOTS of "literacy specialists" a sign of quality?

Catherine Johnson said...

anonymous - do you live in CT?

That is a horrifying story.

Catherine Johnson said...

One problem is that if the public schools somehow managed to fix themselves and get it right, many more kids would stay in the public schools and not go off to private schools. The cost per student might drop, but the total cost to the town would go up.

True!

Catherine Johnson said...

In my area, the town gov't, business leaders and several citizens have stood up and demanded fiscal responsibility. They're being ignored.

Government AND business leaders are being ignored?

wow

My school has basically swallowed the town. EVERYONE plans to move out the instant their kids have graduated. This is a universal sentiment.

Once you have your entire middle-aged population planning to get out, you don't have a town - not in the normal sense of the term.

Catherine Johnson said...

I suppose the unions had nothing to do with writing these laws....

The one good thing around here is that EVERY time someone comes up with a good idea, the administration comes back with: "It's against the law."

People are getting an education in just how union-dominated our state legislature is.

SteveH said...

"You will never be able to position yourself as a less money + better education person."

"Ed and I have done exactly that - ..."


I thought of you when I wrote that. You are exceptional. Perhaps you have to be careful to carve out a better education ==> less money position. Around here, there are certain "money only" people who you wouldn't want joining your team.

Catherine Johnson said...

You know....it isn't just Ed and me.

There's a general perception that school spending doubled in 10 years' time with no measurable gain in student performance.

That central factoid seems to be pretty widely known.

Plus the board's decision last year to put up a referendum on cutting busing affected people's perception of the link between spending and student achievement. People interpreted the referendum as the district trying to save money on the kids while spending on the grownups.

When you look at increases in spending that aren't accompanied by increases in achievement --- that changes people's thinking about the connection between school spending and school quality.

Catherine Johnson said...

That doesn't make the connection between less spending and better education obvious or intuitive in any way, of course.

BUT....charter schools are having an impact here. Charter schools and the question of value-added.