NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Uninformed When It Comes to Education Funding

October 9, 2014

Many Americans are completely unaware of how much money states actually spend on public education, writes Nathan A. Benefield, Vice President of Policy Analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation.

When the Friedman Foundation polled respondents to see how much they believed was spent on public education, more than one-fourth of those polled said they thought states spent under $4,000 per student. In reality, they spent over $10,000.

Benefield's organization conducted a similar poll in the state of Pennsylvania. According to the poll:

  • Pennsylvania spends $14,600 per student, yet 75 percent of respondents believed spending was far below that. On average, respondents thought funding was 46 percent lower than it actually is.
  • More than two-thirds of respondents were surprised when they were told that Pennsylvania spends $3,000 per student more than the national average.

And what happened when respondents learned the true funding levels? Benefield says support for additional school funding dropped by 9 percentage points. A majority responded that they would not be willing to pay higher taxes in order to increase spending on education.

The debate over school funding has been full of misinformation, says Benefield. For example, in his state of Pennsylvania, teachers' unions have engaged in a media campaign decrying a $1 billion cut from Pennsylvania schools when, in reality, the cut is only a funding reduction due to the loss of federal stimulus funds.

So if schools are well funded, why are many school districts cutting teachers and ending certain programs? Pension payments. The costs of teachers' pensions have skyrocketed, says Benefield. In Pennsylvania alone, school districts' payments for retirements increased by 500 percent ($2 billion).

Source: Nathan A. Benefield, "How Much Do We Spend On Education?", October 6, 2014.


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