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They Spend WHAT?
The Real Cost of Public Schools, by Adam Schaeffer
Policy Analysis No. 662, Cato Institute. Washington, D.C. Reprinted with permission
From David W. Kirkpatrick (April 9, 2010)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
"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 $2l,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 area studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.
"Citizens drastically underestimate current per-student spending and are misled by official figures, Taxpayers cannot make informed decisions about public school funding unless they know how much districts currently spend. And with state budgets stretched thin, it is more crucial than ever to carefully allocate every tax dollar.
"Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics publishes public-school spending data for the nation. However, the data they publish is three or four years out of date...To make matters worse many education analysts pay less attention to the total spending figures than to what are called ‘current" expenditures...it refers to a subset of school spending that excludes whole categories of expenditures that are necessary for schools to function, such s capital costs, debts service and employee benefits...
"Most citizens don't have any idea how much is spent per child in public schools...only about 7 percent of Floridians guessed a figure that was close to or higher than the NCES figure of about $9,800 for that year Sixty-three percent thought their state was spending $6,000 or less...in Idaho, only 26 percent of citizens picked the answer closest to or higher than the NCES figure of about $7,800; in...Maryland, only 8 percent answered close to or higher than the NCES figure of about$13,000.
In the District of Columbia the stated annual cost per pupil is $17,542 while the real cost is $28,170; for Lawrence Union in New York State the stated cost is $17,359, and the real cost is $29,451 while for Great Neck Union in NY the stated cost is $21,183 while the real cost is $29,836. Estimated private school costs for these same districts are $11,032 in D.C. and $10,586 for both Lawrence Union and Great Neck Union. Thus, in terms of actual expenditures, it would appear that the public schools are the "elite' institutions.
(While it is not part of this study, according to its own published figures the Bridgehampton School District on Long Island currently spends more than $75,000 per pupil annually.)
"This paper therefore presents model legislation that would bring transparency to school district budgets and enable citizens and legislators to hold the K-12 public education system accountable."
"The Financial Transparency in Education Act would require each local education provider in the state to create and maintain a searchable expenditure and revenue website that includes detailed data on revenues and expenditures. It also would require each local education provider to maintain the data in a format that is easily accessible, searchable, and downloadable, and to prominently post comprehensive figures on total expenditures and per-pupil spending. The Act also requires that each local education provider submit the summary data to the state to be aggregated and made available online by the state."
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Copyright 2010 David W. Kirkpatrick
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