Inflation-Adjusted Cost of a K-12 Public Education and Percent Change in Achievement of 17-Year-Olds, since 1970

Andrew J. Coulson
Big Government
June 5, 2010

"If you graduated from high school in 1980, your entire k-12 education cost your fellow taxpayers about $75,000, in 2009 dollars. But the graduating class of 2009 had roughly twice that amount lavished on their public school careers. The extra $75,000 we're now spending has done wonders for public school employee union membership, dues revenue, and political clout. It's done a whole lotta nothin’' for student learning (see chart)."

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The 1830s and 40s: Horace Mann, the End of Free-Market Education, and the Rise of Government Schools
Matthew Brouillette
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
July 16, 1999

This page from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gives an excellent...

"I asked Fulton County high school teacher Jordan Kohanim to write a piece about what she wanted for her students this year. Jordan joined forces with fellow Centennial High School English teachers Larken McCord and Cathy Rumfelt to write a powerful letter about their goals for their students and for all students. School resumes in Fulton County on Monday

Here is their combined effort....

"'Each morning, wanting to believe in our schools, we take a leap of faith,' filmmaker Davis Guggenheim says in Waiting for Superman. His much-acclaimed documentary then gives us every reason to doubt. By framing this account of the public school system's failure in terms of trust, the film manages to do something far more subversive than merely record union-...

"This year's budget process illustrates two sharply divergent visions for K-12 education in this country. The Republicans' continuing resolution, or CR, calls for cuts in many areas of education, from Title I to special education and statewide data systems. In contrast, the president's budget promotes innovation and supports programs that serve low-income students...

"In 1980, Howard R. Bowen’s revenue theory of cost was put forth to explain the financial trends of higher education. The basic idea was that colleges and universities will spend everything they have, so if you increase their revenue, you should expect their costs to go up too, creating a spiral.

In the decades...

"College tuition increased by 6.6% a year over the past decade, a rate that is approximately 2.4 times that of inflation. One big cause: the bloating of university bureaucracies. Between 1997 and 2007 the administrative and support staffs at colleges expanded by 4.7% a year, double the rate of enrollment growth. The burgeoning army of college bureaucrats defends...

"Congress will soon consider spending $10 billion to prevent layoffs in the public education sector. This money comes in addition to the $80 billion awarded to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for K-12 education as a result of the stimulus bill.

While DOE funding has increased nearly fivefold in the 30 years since its...

"The latest federal study of the D.C. voucher program finds that voucher students have pulled significantly ahead of their public school peers in reading and perform at least as well as public school students in math. It also reports that the average tuition at the voucher schools is $6,620. That is ONE QUARTER what the District of Columbia spends per pupil on...

"Americans are compelled to pay almost $300 billion every year for public education, equivalent to about $1,100 from each and every citizen. Spending on public education in Michigan alone has soared by 463 percent since 1970. Despite these enormous expenditures, however, a surprisingly small percentage actually pays for classroom instruction. In fact, a significant...

"If President Obama cares about restoring sanity to federal finances, he will demand deep cuts to education spending. That's right: In tonight's State of the Union address, he will call to axe most of Washington's educationally worthless outlays.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is likely to prove that he doesn't care all...

"The emergency spending bill before the House would address the education crisis facing communities across America -- and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers are at stake. Because of continued high unemployment, state and local budgets are stressed to the breaking point. Many states and localities are drastically cutting education spending. This year...

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently claimed 'Districts around the country have literally been cutting for five, six, seven years in a row. And, many of them, you know, are through, you know, fat, through flesh and into bone ... .'

Really? They cut spending five to seven consecutive years?

...

"We've been treated to hand-wringing all spring over the new school budgets for 2011, which are supposedly inadequate, underfunded and unacceptable.

School district officials and politicians claim it's curtains for high-quality public education in Virginia.

However, what you think...

"The Wall Street Journal reports today that according to the latest Bureau of the Census figures there was a 0.4% drop in nominal U.S. public school operating spending from 2010 to 2011."

"It's the hot new public-sector trend; massively expensive K-12 school buildings.

Christina Hoag of the AP writes that LA takes the prize for conspicuous public consumption with the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools:

'With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the...

"In 1994, Michigan citizens approved a constitutional amendment that dramatically altered the way public schools are funded.  Known as Proposal A, the amendment delivered much-needed tax relief to overburdened property owners in exchange for a sales-tax increase—and a significant shift in control of the education purse-strings from the local to the state level...

"Question: How many children can a public school system fail before the public school system is labeled a failure? 
A. 86 percent. 
B. 63 percent. 
C. 47 percent. 
D. 34 percent. 
E. All of the above. 
Answer: E...

"As we close out this school year, taxpayers may wonder want kind of bang we're getting for our educational buck. Texans now spend more than $11,000 per year on public education – with less than half going toward instructional expenses.

In the 2008-2009 school year -- the last for which data is available -- Texas schools spent $...

"As president of the State Senate, Mann was instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837 during the height of Whig and Unitarian influence in the state. Appointed as the board's first secretary that year, he served until 1848 when he resigned to fill a vacant seat in Congress. On the board, Mann combined an evangelical fervor for the common school with adroit...

"The Cartel, a searing education documentary, opens nationwide on Wednesday. The film, by director Bob Bowden, exposes where our multiplying education tax dollars are going. Spoiler alert: In too many instances, they aren't going toward teaching children.

Bowden focuses on New Jersey, a state that spends over $17,000 per...

In this Op-Ed piece from The Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson argues that our public education system is failing the underpriviledged because we are not putting enough money into the school system.

This piece gives a quick number crunching overview of the cost of D.C. public schools. Coulson informs his audience how much money the schools receive from various organizations - such as the federal government and the local school district –...

"The U.S. public school monopoly is guilty of seven deadly sins: It wastes resources, discourages good teaching, inhibits parental involvement, suppresses information, stifles innovation, creates conflict and harms the poor.

Just as the seven deadly sins correspond to weaknesses in human nature, the sins of public...

"Teachers unions, the Obama administration, and most Democrats in Congress want to spend another $23 billion that we don’t have to shore up public school employment. If we don't go along, they tell us, it'll be a 'catastrophe' for American education. With fewer teachers our...

"While the education film Waiting For Superman has moving profiles of students struggling to succeed under difficult circumstances, it puts forward a sometimes misleading and other times dishonest account of the roots of the problem and possible solutions. The amped-up rhetoric of crisis and failure everywhere is being used to promote business-model...

Chart or Graph

"[A]s displayed [above], the number of ... teachers ... has also continually increased, except during the above noted early 1980's enrollment decline and recessionary period, for four decades."

"Finally, as displayed in Figures 3, 4, and 5 the number of employees, teachers, administrators and others has also continually increased, except during the above noted early 1980's enrollment decline and recessionary period, for four decades."

"The probability that the recession will end quickly and result in a dramatic upward increase in GDP and school spending seems remote."

Our analysis of grading histories suggests that while the rapid rise of grades in the 1960s was a unique occurrence, grades rose measurably in the 1930s and 1940s as well (Figure 1).

"Schools are highly resource dependent, but they are not dependent on a single source. The distribution of revenue-raising responsibility over federal, state, and local governments contributes to education revenue stability (see Figure 4)."

"U.S Department of Education K-12 has nearly doubled since the department first began operating in 1980. The agency's total budget, which includes higher education spending, has also more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation."

This chart shows the requirements for evaluating tenured teachers used by selected public school districts across the country.

"In 2004-2005 (the most recent school year for which data are available), an average of $9,266 was spent per pupil in American public schools."

As Figure 01 illustrates, in districts that use binary ratings, virtually all tenured teachers (more than 99 percent) receive the satisfactory rating; the number receiving an unsatisfactory rating amounts to a fraction of a percentage.

"Moreover, 43 percent of teachers across all districts believe that there is a tenured teacher in their school who should be dismissed for poor instructional performance but has not been."

"Public schools have done well when the economy grows and, particularly when compared to other economic sectors, are remarkably insulated from economic downturns."

For a half century, nearly a third of the nation's high school students have failed to graduate.

"As seen nationally in Figure 1 and by classification of school district, (rural, suburban and urban) in Figure 2, America’s public schools districts have long been on an upward per-pupil revenue trajectory."

Chart 5 compares high graduation rates and per-student expenditures in the nation's 50 largest cities.

"Yet as illustrated in Figure 06, our research found no evidence that teachers are subject to a rigorous screening process during their probationary periods; only a fraction of teachers are 'non-renewed' by the districts when they have the opportunity to do so."

"On a per-pupil basis, real federal spending on K-12 education has also increased significantly over time. In 2005, the federal government spent $971 per pupil, more than three times its level of spending in 1970 ($311) after adjusting for inflation."

Over the past forty years, public school employment has risen 10 times faster than enrollment (see chart).

Not only is government education spending out of control, much of the increase is being sunk into hugely expensive and unnecessary building projects.

Figure 9 displays the three tier longitudinal mix of government-contributed education revenues from 1920 through to 2006.

"Education spending has no correlation with academic achievement. Yet Congress, at the behest of teachers unions, continues to increase federal spending on education."

"In 2007, the federal government spent $71.7 billion on elementary and secondary Education programs."

This chart "shows the performance over time of U.S. 17-year-olds on the 'Long Term Trends' testing program of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

But despite its creation just 30 years ago, the DOE’s discretionary budget is the third largest, behind only the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The fact that information on teacher performance is almost exclusively used for decisions related to teacher remediation and dismissal paints a stark picture.

Analysis Report White Paper

"A 100-year era of perpetual per-pupil fiscal growth will soon slow or stop. The causes of this situation are far more fundamental than the current recession. Schools should start buckling their seat belts now.

This article has two major points. First, even when controlled for inflation, school spending has been increasing...

"Debates about how to improve public Education in America often focus on whether government should spend more on education. Federal and state policymakers proposing new Education programs often base their arguments on the need to provide more resources to schools to improve opportunities for students.

Many Americans seem to share...

"American education is at a crossroads. The federal government’s role in education has grown significantly over the past half-century, infringing on our long-held principle of federalism in education. Massive spending increases, and the reams of regulations that accompany them, have not led to better results. Meaningful reforms like school choice, moreover, have...

"Despite declining resources, Arlington, Massachusetts Superintendent Nathan Levenson lead a team of committed administrators and a courageous school board from July 2005 through August 2008 to award-winning growth in academic achievement. The shrinking budget wasn’t an obstacle to improvement; it was an instrument of their success. More children learning, however...

This study examines data from a government survey of public and private school teachers. The researchers discovered that private school teachers generally express much more contentment about their salaries, professions, and surroundings than public school teachers do....

"Colleges and universities are turning out graduates faster than America’s labor markets are creating jobs that traditionally have been reserved for those with degrees. More than one-third of current working graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, and the proportion appears to be rising rapidly. Many of them are better described as 'underemployed'...

"Grades are the primary currency of academia. They are used by teachers to motivate students and by graduate schools, professional schools, and employers to identify promising candidates. Yet there is so much variability in grading from one school to the next and between various major areas of study that mistakes in evaluation are commonplace. There have also been...

"Governments in the United States currently spend about 4 percent of gross domestic product on 'public' schools. Those schools also employ about 4 percent of the nation's workforce. Although few will admit it, public education is clearly an anachronistic, socialist institution, with all of the characteristics of a typical Soviet enterprise. As such, one would...

"Necessary, but not sufficient might be one way to sum up attitudes about standards and testing five years into No Child Left Behind and over a dozen years into the so-called standards movement in American education. Based on results from Public Agenda's 2006 'Reality Check' opinion surveys, there is strong belief in the intrinsic value of standards and testing and broad support for key...

This paper studies the differences between government and private funded educational institutions in a variety of countries. Coulson’s research leads him to believe that the more private funding a school receives, the more effective the academic outcomes are. According to Coulson, "[i]n more than one hundred statistical comparisons covering eight...

"The Obama administration has brought new attention to charter schools. The administration is encouraging states to support the expansion of high-quality charter schools by offering states that lift caps on new charters a chance to win grants from the renowned Race to the Top competition. Six states—Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, and Rhode...

"President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request includes another major spending increase for the Department of Education—2.5 percent more than last year—to nearly $70 billion. American taxpayers are calling for spending restraint in Washington, yet President Obama's proposals would exacerbate the existing bureaucratic maze of federal programs and further remove educational decision-making authority...

"A recent paper entitled 'The Investment Payoff' purports to identify a number of significant benefits from higher education — increased personal income, lower unemployment, improved health, reduced reliance on public assistance, more volunteerism, and increased electoral participation. Readers are subtly led to conclude that increased spending on higher education...

"The prevailing view among leaders in the university community is that America is not investing enough in higher education. A recent survey of the American economy by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) echoed that concern. After all, college graduates are dramatically more productive than those without higher education preparation, and...

"This report is the culmination of a yearlong effort to study the efficiency of the nation's public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. Our...

This piece takes a look at the benefits people (and society) stand to gain from attending college, including increased wages, better health, increased tendency to volunteerism, and a decline in unemployment. From this information the compilers conclude that greater investments in higher education would be beneficial to the United States. A brief rebuttal to this report can be found...

Leef describes how almost all Americans have been sucked into thinking that college is necessary in order to get a decent job. Leef believes that this attitude has been fostered by the lowering of academic standards in colleges in order to increase revenue for those same institutions.

This piece gives readers a brief history lesson on public school funding/spending, specifically focusing on the rising involvement of state and federal governments as compared to local. Peng and Guthrie also study past funding levels and then project an estimated spending amount per student in the next decade.

"Television and the movies have glamorized the life of lawyers. While most young people who are contemplating law school probably realize that the high-powered attorney who gets out of his Ferrari in his $3,000 suit and marches into the courtroom to win his case is just a stereotype, that image is hard to shake.

Conversely, what...

"This report is the product of an extensive research effort spanning 12 districts and four states. It reflects survey responses from approximately 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators, and it has benefited from the insight of more than 80 local and state education officials, teachers union leaders, policymakers and advocates who participated...

"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."

"American schools are failing because they are organized according to a bureaucratic, monopolistic model. A school voucher of $3,000 per student per year would give more families the option of sending their children to non-government schools. However, many people believe that such a small amount could not possibly cover tuition at a private school; they may be...

Video/Podcast/Media

In this clip from WIBA's Upfront with Vicki McKenna, Adam Schaeffer discusses the wasteful spending practices of our nation's public schools.

In this podcast from the Cato Institute, Education Policy Analyst Adam Schaeffer discusses the culture of wasteful spending and deceptive accounting practices that run rampant in America's public education system.

This video is a Q&A session with Bob Bowdon, director of the documentary, "The Cartel," a film that exposes the vast failures of the American public education system. In this video, Bowdon talks about the culture of financial waste and irresponsiblilty in public education.

Adam Schaeffer discusses the common problem of public schools underreporting their per-pupil spending numbers. Schaeffer points out that public schools actually go out of their way to disguise the actual amount of total spending they undertake, for instance by not including capital costs.

"Adam Schaeffer, policy analyst for the Cato Institute, discusses the failure of the Department of Education to improve the student's education scores, even though education spending has been increasing year after year. Schaeffer sums up public education's main issue when he says, 'The problem is not how much money you have, it's how it's used. And we see time and...

"The president says he wants to do 'what's best for kids.' So why won't he save a proven program that helps low-income students?

The program is wildly popular with parents and children—there are four applicants for every available slot—and a recent Department of Education study found that participants do significantly better than their public school peers. Indeed, after three years...

"The 2008-2009 economic tsunami has slashed tax collections, squeezing government and forcing public agencies to search out cost savings. The nation's K-12 schools, which depend upon $600 billion in local, state, and federal funding, have been buffeted by declining revenues after decades of steady increases. A recent National Council of State Legislators report...

"The Center for College Affordability and Productivity discuss the problem of grade inflation at American colleges and universities."

CNBC's Erin Burnett moderates a debate between Dan Michtell of the Cato Institute, and Christian Weller of the Center for American Progress, regarding whether the Department of Education should be cut from the federal budget.

"What if a sports team continued to lose more and more games, even as it continued to spend more money on brand new uniforms, state-of-the-art facilities, and more coaches?

You would probably begin to wonder whether all the new spending was doing any good.

Unfortunately, a story like this plays out in America’s public school system. For decades, the federal government has poured...

"Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie sat down with Greene at the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, D.C., to talk about why competition makes schools better.

Jay Greene is the author of numerous studies demonstrating that more choice in education leads to better outcomes. A professor of education reform at the University...

"Newark, New Jersey spends an astounding $23,141 per student. That money pays for a school system in which 40 percent of high school students pass a standard proficency test.

Why aren't Garden State taxpayers getting more for their money?

To find out, Reason.tv sat down with Derrell Bradford, the founder and CEO of Excellent Education for...

"People are not being educated they're being tested for levels of obedience. School is about memorizing what you are told short term and repeating it. The bulk of how you are graded is by completely daily busy work. This is for the work force the most important quality in a worker bee actually is obedience."

"Responding to the documentary, Waiting for Superman, Rethinking School's author and education activist, Stan Karp, looks at the interests driving the conservative, so-called education reform movement. 

Stan Karp taught English and Journalism in Paterson, New Jersey, for 30 years. He has written widely on school reform for Education Week,...

"20/20 investigation by John Stossel entitled 'Stupid in America' highlighting some of the flaws with the education system in the United States. The story started out when identical tests were given to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students 'stupid', which...

This video briefly explains the details in Schaeffer's report on the actual costs of public schools. Schaeffer argues that when costs such as teacher pensions, debt payments, and...

Primary Document

This page provides the full text of the DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003, the law that established vouchers for all the schools within Washington, D.C. The purpose of this act is as follows:

"The D.C. School Choice Incentive Program provides low-income parents residing in the District of Columbia (District) with expanded...

This piece provides a copy of the original act which established the federal Department of Education. The opening pages of the document describe the reasons why the Education Department was established, some of which include "strengthen[ing] the Federal commitment to ensuring...

"An Act To strengthen and improve educational quality and educational opportunities [H. R. 2362] in the Nation's elementary and secondary schools."

"The financing of elementary and secondary education in Minnesota comes through a combination of state-collected taxes (primarily income and sales) and locally collected property taxes. Revenue to school districts is received in three major categories, all of which are described in greater detail in this booklet."

"Horace Mann was a ... U.S. educator, the first great American advocate of public education, who believed that, in a democratic society, education should be free and universal, nonsectarian, democratic in method, and reliant on well-trained, professional teachers."

This page provides the full text of the first public education law in the United States, passed in 1852 in the State of Massachusetts. The Act passed in 1852 established a compulsary attendence law, requiring all children between the ages of 8 and 14 to go to school for at least 12 weeks of the year, with 6 of the weeks being consecutive. This law represents...

No Child Left Behind is a descendant of "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965." Its opening lines describe it as "An Act [t]o close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind."

This page, written by Kerry L. Morgan, provides a very thorough historical analysis of the establishment of the first federal educational office, the Office (or Department) of Education. Congress created it in 1867 and placed Henry Barnard in charge as the Commissioner of Education.

Executive Summary:


"The District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act of 2003, passed by Congress in January 2004, established the first federally funded, private school voucher program in the United States. As part of this legislation, Congress mandated a rigorous evaluation of the impacts of the Program, now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). This...

This page from the U.S. Department of Education gives a brief overview and history of the Federal government's role in public education.

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In the genre of documentaries revealing the problems with public education, "Kids Aren't Cars" focuses on helping us understand how schools are modeled after a factory system and what we need to do to change them. Understandably, treating kids as if they are a product to be manufactured has had detrimental effects on children going through the system and the overall level of education in America...
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The reality is that most students (and people for that matter) won't speak out. It's called human nature and it was recognized in the Declaration of Independence: "...all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." While you might feel alone when debating a teacher,...
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, speech codes are a particularly odious example of politically correct repression on many a college campus. In some ways, college campuses are the least free places for thinking and speech in America. Your best friend for fighting your school's repressive speech codes is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Here's a short clip...
Running for office isn't easy, even in college. Not everyone is cut out for it, either. For those of you who are, this completely non-partisan section is for you. If you are inclined to pursue student government, we're not going to spend time on telling you how to get elected. A good place to go for ideas and training is CampusReform.org. Rather, we want to help you in office, as a believer in...

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