K-12 Spending: more, More, MORE!

Education spending.  More is better, right?

For years we have heard reports that teachers are forced to buy paper and supplies out of their own pockets, that some teachers qualify for food stamps, and that there have been “draconian cuts” to K-12 education budgets for decades.  Stories of the heartless underfunding of education are delivered with emotion and indignation, but seldom with statistical validation.

As student scores, college readiness and employability of graduates continue to decline across the U.S., the mantra of educators and progressives increases in volume and pitch.  “More money.  Just give us more money.  All we need is MORE MONEY!”

Seattle Times Headline Ed Spending

At a recent conference on school choice presented by the Franklin Center, Dr. Ben Scafidi shredded many of the myths about American taxpayers short-shrifting students.

Scafidi, director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College and State University, said spending per student continues to increase sharply, studies prove that student achievement does not rise as a result of more spending, and there is no evidence that students are any harder to teach than they ever were due to non-school influences.

The most compelling finding of Scafidi’s 2012 study titled “The School Staffing Surge – Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools is this:

From 1950 to 2009 the number of students increased by 98%.  The number of teachers in public schools increased by 252%.  Meanwhile the number of administrators and other school staff increased by 702%.

Scafidi said, “If from 1992 to 2012 our public schools had increased non-teacher staff at the same rate that it increased teaching staff, it would have freed up $26.5 billion per year in education funds.  That could translate to an $8500 raise for every teacher, or a huge reduction in taxes, or scholarships that would allow many students to attend the schools of their choice.”

Opponents of school choice contend that students who remain in traditional public schools are harmed when budget dollars follow students to private or charter schools.  But Scafidi points out that charter and private schools operate so much more efficiently than the traditional public schools that fixed costs for the existing schools (about 36%) can still be covered by available funds and the remaining students in those schools benefit by the reduced variable costs.

Clearly there is no direct equivalency between dollars spent per student and results.  Test scores, graduation rates, and college matriculation at the private and charter schools I visited in Washington, DC were nothing short of miraculous compared to those of the traditional DC public schools, despite spending less than half the amount per student.

In previous posts I have reported school budgets in rural Montana schools of $22,000 per student per year.  While many of these students are getting a great education, by no means are they twice as smart as their city-school peers.  The cost is merely a function of declining numbers of students versus increasing costs, largely spending required by federal and state regulations and not the local school board.

I have personally seen many aggregious examples of non-academic school spending.  One Montana school district with 350 high school students keeps a stable of five cruiser buses, most equipped with personal video players, for their athletic and extracurricular teams.  Schools so small they can only play six-man football travel 350 miles to games.  My local school district in South Carolina just spent $6 million on artificial turf.  That’s got to affect the cost per student, without really improving student outcomes, wouldn’t you say?

Voters and taxpayers: next time you hear educators and progressives hollering for “more, more, more money!” you might ask how the extra dollars will be spent and how will students benefit.  Better yet, demand that the dollars coming from your hard earned pay can go with each student to the school of his or her choice.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!”, y’all
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one!

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