END THEM, DON'T MEND THEM
June 21, 2010
It costs a fortune to send kids to school. Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That is an average, says P.J. O'Rourke, a contributing editor with the Weekly Standard.
In March, the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. According to Schaeffer school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 percent and 90 percent. The school districts cried poor by excluding various categories of spending from their budgets -- debt service, employee benefits, transportation costs and capital costs:
- Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000.
- The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900.
- The District of Columbia's per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542; the real number is an astonishing $28,170 -- 155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.
School districts also cheat by simple slowness in publishing their budgets, says O'Rourke:
- The $11,749 is from 2007, the most recent figure available; it's certainly grown.
- The Digest of Educational Statistics (read by Monday, there will be a quiz) says inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending increased by 49 percent from 1984 to 2004 and by more than 100 percent from 1970 to 2005.
What are we getting for all this money, asks O'Rourke?
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test scores remained essentially the same from 1970 to 2004.
- SAT scores in 1970 averaged 537 in reading and 512 in math, and 38 years later the scores were 502 and 515.
- American College Testing (ACT) composite scores have increased only slightly from 20.6 (out of 36) in 1990 to 21.1 in 2008.
- The extraordinary expense of the D.C. public school system produced a 2007 class of eighth graders in which, according to the NAEP, only 12 percent of the students were at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent were at or above proficiency in math.
Source: P.J. O'Rourke, "End Them, Don't Mend Them," Weekly Standard, June 21, 2010.
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