What public schools really cost

The True Cost of Public Education is much higher than school districts admit, says a Cato video.  Capital costs and pensions often are omitted.

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  1. I am no “education reformer” (as many currently understand it), but I do find your video informative. I suppose that I don’t see that much of a backlash if more schools were to publish these costs, but then again, I am a public school teacher who doesn’t feel enough enough money goes to our schools. Still, very informative.

  2. Thanks for posting this piece. Let’s hope it leads to more transparency in reporting the actual costs of public education. This report that adds in pensions and capital expenses is a good first step.

    The same uncertainty about costs emerges in the special education arena–What are the true costs? What are the costs of regular and special ed services that students with disabilities receive? What are all the various sources–state, federal and local. A careful anaysis is long overdue.

  3. A great argument for privatizing education.

  4. Even if you count capital costs and pension obligations, the figure for “cost of education”, by which people mean “the taxpayers’ support for the State-monopoly school system” seriously underestimates the total cost. First, and most obviously, the cost of this system includes losses due to juvenile crime. In Hawaii, between 1987 and 1997 juvenile arrests fell in summer, when schools operated on a September through June schedule. Less directly, compulsory attendance statutes impose a cost equal to the lost productivity of foregone child labor. Further, wretched education imposes life-long costs on poor and minority children. We all pay, in lower aggregate lifetime productivity, losses due to crime, and the cost of prison for the poor kids whose lives we trash. Still less directly, compulsory attendance statutes and policies which restrict parents’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ age 6-18 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel impose an opportunity cost, the lost innovation in education curriculum, technology, and methods which a competitive market would generate.

    “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer. In the realm of public policy, this means federalism (local control) or a competitive market in goods and services. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls; a retarded experimental design.

  5. > I am a public school teacher who doesn’t feel enough enough money goes to our schools

    So, if $11,000 per year isn’t enough, how much do you think it should take? Adjusted for inflation, the cost to educate a student has roughly doubled in the last 30 years. How many more times must it double before you concede that money wasn’t the problem in the first place?

  6. Piffle.

    Similar costs apply to any business concern, especially in retail. The difference between gross and net is significant, and often isn’t considered by anyone other than those eying the balance sheets and developing product pricing. Take, for example, a manufacturing concern developing a new widget. There will be a certain amount of cost of development going into perfecting that widget that isn’t necessarily going to be reflected in the final price to the consumer (caveat–this is not the case with every product or industry, and some industries have higher development costs than others).

    So people find this surprising? How naive, and points to a lack of understanding of how the real world works.

  7. Joyce,
    If a normal business cooked its books the way the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools cook their books, the corporation’s financial officers would face prosecution.

    “The difference between gross and net is significant, and often isn’t considered by anyone other than those eying the balance sheets and developing product pricing.”

    Consider what you just said: costs matter to pricing. That means that costs matter to customers and competitors. Costs also matter to shareholders, since “legacy costs” (pension obligations) will influence share price.

  8. Malcolm–

    What planet are you on that NEA and AFT actually run the school, pray tell? From my experience, it ain’t the unions who are cooking the books, it’s the school board and the administrators (who are not members of NEA, AFT or AFSCME).

    Additionally, the retail analogy does not perfectly carry over to education. Service industry costs and so on are more appropriate.

    Perhaps law firm billings might well be a more apt comparison.


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