How much?

Americans want to spend more on education — until they find out how much is being spent, write Jay Greene and Marcus Winters in the New York Post. Then, most say it’s enough.

Almost half of those surveyed (48 percent) estimated that public schools spend less than $5,000 per pupil. Nearly 3 in 10 Americans think that public schools spend between $5,000 and $10,000; only 14 percent believe that schools spend over $10,000 per student.

Total spending per student, including capital costs, is close to $10,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The pollsters, using a conservative figure for spending (leaving out capital costs like construction), told people in their survey that that public schools spend between $7,000 and $9,000 per student. Once they heard that, 62 percent said that amount should be enough.

Spending per student has doubled over the last 30 years in real dollars; achievement has leveled off. Greene and Winters want advocates of increased spending to name the dollar amount that would be sufficient to do the job rather than just asking for “more.”

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  1. To me it’s just one more reason that throwing more money at districts won’t fix the problem…

  2. Michael says:

    To me, it doesn’t mean much until I see regional breakdowns. Even that’s only the beginning of analysis.

  3. John Doe says:

    The lowest-spending state, Utah, outscores higher spending states despite having a fairly low per-capita income level.

    A basic problem is that teacher productivity cannot rise over time–a teacher cannot teach more children today than 100 years ago. This is the same problem that was rather famously described regarding the cost of opera tickets.

    The same problem is present at the college level, as long as schools insist on in-person lectures. Computers and DVDs might make it possible to raise productivity however, giving us a way out and allowing far more people to get at least a basic college education.

  4. jeff wright says:

    John Doe must be a techie. The Internet and computer software are a poor substitute for a real, live person with whom one can actually interact. The last thing this country needs is more poorly educated college graduates, especially the kind who can’t deal with other people. Let’s focus on the 3Rs first.

    No surprise that Utah, given it population makeup, scores highly despite relatively low spending levels. Same in other, more monochromatic states. School performance is not an economic issue. It is instead a sociological and political issue and throwing more money at the schools will do nothing to address the problems. This is why, I, a Californian who believes strongly in public education, no longer support increased funding for the schools. It’s not the schools’ fault: they don’t know how to solve the problem.

    Time for the politicians and other segments of society to get to work on issues such as immigration reform and the neglect of our cities. So long as a sizable slice of our school-age kids feels doomed to a meaningless existence, giving Ms Jones, the eighth-grade teacher, a nice pay raise won’t do a thing.

  5. Jeff: I don’t think it’s simply a matter of being monochromatic: I think it has a lot to do with the majority being Mormons, a rather clean-living group that promotes civic virtue.

    I’ve been around enough “white trash” (I’m related to some of them) to know that color doesn’t guarantee a good attitude about work and education.

  6. Foobarista says:

    Since the estimate took out construction costs,
    I can’t help but wonder where all the money goes.
    Using the low end, you have $7K per student,
    which for a classroom of 20 would imply a $140K
    budget. You pay the teacher a good salary, say
    $60K or so, with $20K of benefits, for a total of
    $80K. Admin overhead (he said optimistically)
    should be no more than $1K/student or $20K/year.
    You then have $40K left for “everything else”,
    which should cover books, other materials, and
    things like electricity/water/janitor, etc.
    (Of course, I suspect that the admin overhead is
    actually far more than my estimate, although
    I still can’t see why it should be.)


  7. Remember to add in the busses and drivers, cafeteria staff, nurse, counselor, crossing guards. Now the big one: Special Education. Our 400 enrollment elementary school has three kids with one on one aides. There are six full time certified staff in special ed in addition to that plus four other special ed aides. Also occupational therapists, speech therapists, part time. No way out of this, federal law mandates these services. Nearly every school has a ‘million dollar kid’.

  8. Superdestroyer says:

    The real comparison is what goes private school costs. My co-worker sends his daughter to a private religious school for $8K per year plus funding raising costs, etc. Yet that school has nothing past flag football and does not have band, etc. A good prep school in a large city will run upwards of $20K.

    It is not the absolute costs but the relative costs.

  9. Tom West says:

    I think atlas’ point is correct. There is an enormous amount spent on relatively few children to give them the opportunity to succeed in a manner undreamt of is generations past.

    The question is whether American society is willing to continue to accept the burden of educating such children. From the comments here, I suspect that many might be willing to see such children eliminated from the educational system in order to increase the efficiency for the mainstream children and the consequent tax break.

    Of course, school vouchers would probably accomplish much the same thing. Other schools would happily take the amount alloted per student for non-special needs students, leaving the “million dollar kids” for the public school system (except a system *without* the other children to subsidize the child with needs).

  10. theAmericanist says:

    Actually, the article points to an interactive news/talk show I’ve always wanted to do. The trouble with interactivity has always been the point-multipoint thing. That is, folks can easily play along with a show like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune at home, but they can’t really “play”; they’re not participating. Or a lot of people can play the SAME game at the same time, e.g., chess, they just can’t actually play each other — the basic model is that it’s either one on one (2 on 2, 11 on 11, etc.), or else you watch other people play.

    But what if a single show with many individuals in the audience was to ask folks to indicate their opinion, e.g., should we spend more, less, or the same on education? (or defense, or whatever) Then the responses would be indicated both for yourself and for everybody else on your screen. (You said “yes, much more”; 67% of the audience agreed with you and 33% disagreed.)

    Having established a bench mark for what people think, you move on to test what they KNOW. “How much are we now spending on education?” (or defense, or whatever.)

    (grin) What if of the 67% of folks who agreed with your opinion, 90% had no clue how much they were talking about? What if of the third of folks who disagreed with you, EVERYBODY actually knew how much dough is involved?

    This model could create a TRUE interactivity in such stuff. I’d be very curious how this sort of dialogue with an audience might work out.

    I mean — most folks (especially on blogs) are often in error, but rarely in doubt. But it’s only a truism, it’s not actually true, that opinions aren’t accountable. I’d love to work with the shifting consensus that I think you’d see in this kind of exchange with an audience when (for example) the overwhelming majority that wants X finds out that it is the MINORITY that actually knows something about it.


  1. Check, please

    My favorite education blogger, Joanne Jacobs, comments on an interesting New York Post op-ed regarding public perception of education funding. From the Post: MORE money for public education? Like apple pie and the flag, everyone’s for it. But, it turns