Write a check to your school for $88,000?!

In my neck of the Montana woods, the annual cost to educate a K-12 student is over $11,000, which is about the state average.  Some nearby rural school districts spend $15,000 per student and one spends over $22,000 per kid per year.  (Data is available at the ‘Transparency in MT Schools’ website – thanks to the Montana Policy Institute).  This does not include the additional costs of government offices and personnel related to education.

Most people say we should spend more on education.  They aren’t specific about how much would be enough – $25,000 per student?  $50,000? $100,000?

Forgive my “old Bean Counter” instincts, but hearing these numbers makes me think:  If I live in this small Montana town where educating a student costs $22,000 per year, and I have four kids, do I have to write a check for $88,000 every August?

Now, I’m not going to tell any community or school board that they can’t spend that much, or more, if they are spending their own money.  The problem is, they aren’t.

For reference, Montana’s 2008 per capita income was under $35,000.  Most parents have no idea how much their schools spend, because they don’t write a check to the district — school funds come from somewhere else.

The costs are hidden.  Just like GRANTS.  Just like EMPLOYER PAID HEALTH INSURANCE and MEDICAID.  Just like pretty much ALL GOVERNMENT SPENDING.

It’s so easy to spend somebody else’s money.  The trouble is, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “You eventually run out of other people’s money.”  She’s right.  We are out, and are now having to borrow and print the money we spend.

I’m not an anarchist – I know that there are important things that are better done collectively than individually.  And I’m not picking on Montana, our school spending pretty much mirrors the national average and test results are above average.  Much of the cost is mandated.

But I am a realist when it comes to budgets, and a believer in the miracle of the free market.  Gang, I’m sorry, we can’t keep spending more and more on education in this country, especially when our kids are not getting our money’s worth.

Many people just can’t get used to the idea of school vouchers, or school choice.  But look at it this way.  Let’s say you have three school kids.  Would you be ready and willing to write a check for $33,000 for the school year?  If you were able to write that check, would you be more demanding about what you are getting for your investment?

Now turn that scenario around.  Most people could not, or would not write that check.  So if instead you received a check from the government for $33,000, how would you spend it?

Would you spend it on the best education for your child that your money could buy?  For $33,000, would you perhaps stay at home and educate your own children?  Would you pay college tuition for your high-functioning senior instead of high school?

If one small-town school is your only choice, obviously that’s where your voucher goes.  You may choose to supplement it with your own money or contributions until it meets your standards.

Alternatives quickly spring up in the free market to supply any consumer demand.  Education is no different – why wouldn’t I buy the education product that is best for my family and student (quality, safety, value)?

Give me a million dollars and a hundred kids, and I’d sure like to give it a shot.  Bet I could hire some damn good teachers, and every graduate would be ready for financial independence and a productive career, or higher education.  There would be plenty of funds to transport, feed, and educate students at a level that is unattainable by the current system, along with a profit.

I recently heard a career public school educator remark, “the best math comprehension model I have ever seen is the one in place at Sylvan Learning Center.”

This is a deep discussion, with many questions (i.e. special education, extracurriculars, social issues, welfare kids), and this post is already too long.  But there are as many answers and ideas as there are questions – the free market has a way of finding solutions to consumer wants and needs.

I just want every parent to give some serious thought to the possibilities and potential of school choice, rather than dismiss it out-of-hand.  It’s time we take the chance.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(That’s all I ask of you honey)
Take a chance on me

Take A Chance On Me – ABBA

6 thoughts on “Write a check to your school for $88,000?!

  1. Pingback: Is the Education Establishment About to Lose Its Grip on Public Funds?

    • Yes, but there is much that we don’t see on our property tax bills – the re-allocation of funds, the federal dollars and mandates, etc. The school funding formula in Montana is incredibly complex. I have to break it down into understandable views, such as spending per student, pie-chart allocation of total budget, etc. When I think of $88,000 per year for a family of four kids, it is jarring!

  2. I’m glad you did this, Tom. My question is what is the right amount to spend on a student. You know, like when Ford builds a vehicle, they know how much they can invest and still make a profit, or when Microsoft makes a computer, they know how much they can invest in the product and still make money. I realize schools don’t make money, per se, but what is the right amount to invest in a student? A few years ago, 8 maybe, it took $5500 to educate a student in Lewistown. Another question: Why should smaller schools with very few students be allowed to spend $22,000 to educate the same type of student that Lewistown educates for half that amount? There has to be a break even point. I’m just wondering what it is. One other point: It’s hard to digest the $11,000 figure when one looks at wages because three years in the past 10, all staff took a 0% raise, and other years bargained raises were for 1 or 2%, so that shouldn’t cause the cost to double. What would? (I know, steps and lanes figure in, but they shouldn’t be that significant.)

    • Thanks for your thoughtful post, Mike.

      I don’t know how to figure out what is the “right cost” for education. My guess is we have to find the right way, and see what the cost would be. Obviously our society can pay what we are now, and probably more. What’s more important is getting the right results. I think most people consider investing in education to be a top priority.

      I must point out that teachers still get step raises even when the base pay schedule stays flat – not that I’m saying they are overpaid. I’m not addressing the teacher pay issue here.

      Yes, when you look at the cost of education on a per-student basis, it really clarifies the problem. $88k for a family of four is just staggering to me. You are correct, a school is not a business, but we are all bound by the realities of economics, and it would be derelict of us all to ignore ever-increasing costs, especially if we are not totally happy about the results. And how much “cost shifting” can the system bear?

      I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but one thing I am sure of – we can’t keep doing everything the same way just out of habit or apathy. We have to improve education, and throwing more money at the same model is not the answer.

  3. Pingback: K-12 Spending: more, More, MORE! | Rockin' On The Right Side

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