They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Posted: May 2nd, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

by Adam B. Schaeffer, CATO

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 $27,000 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 areas 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.

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.


Comments (4)


  1. Bringing transparency to the socialized school system, solves nothing.Any way the system will not allow transparency. Those who pay for the system, usually over half every States budget, have no say so in the system. Those directly in the system have no imput into how its operated, {the students}. The parents of the system are totally out of the loop.
    Transparency is not whats needed, the entire structure of the tax-supported system should be done-away with. Its an immoral system based upon thievery.
    The children are not educated, they are indoctrinated into the phylosophy of socialism.

    Anne Cleveland

    • Militant Libertarian says:

      I would basically agree with you, but most Americans won’t. At least by adding transparency to the pulik skewl process, maybe more would be inclined to agree with our idea of abolition. Until then, the indoctrination prisons will likely remain.

  2. I began battling the tax supported school system in the early sixties. I naievely thought changes of improvement could be accomplished. Ultimately concluded there is nothing any-one can do to improve so called public schools. And heres why- taxes by their definition are an in-voluntary relinquishment of property-hence thievery. Stealing is immoral, therefore there is no way under the sun to have a moral system of education based upon immorality. I have written a number of articles about schools and my experiences on my blogsite, Feel prompted to write another on transparency.
    Thank you for your response to my comment
    Anne Cleveland

    • Militant Libertarian says:

      The problem here is propaganda. By and large, the majority of the people in America believe in a dual paradigm: theft is bad, but theft under the name of taxation is OK. Until that is removed, the idea of “free public schools” as a “good” will prevail. I posted this article because the first step to changing the public’s mind and showing them that theft is theft, no matter what euphemism you use to describe it, is to show them how the stolen money is wrongly used (transparency, the bane of bureaucrats).

      I haven’t been around to see things as long as you have (you mention the early sixties, I wasn’t born until 1973). I have, however, had two things to be thankful for with my own upbringing and background. First, I am a red-head and convincing a redhead of anything without an extremely good explanation for it is generally impossible. Second, I grew up in a Mormon household that did not live in Utah (and thus was the minority opinion) and learned about being “different.” For all of its faults as an authoritarian religion second to few, the LDS religion when it’s the minority view is an effective instructor of civil disobedience.

      What I’ve figured out is that, like most everything else, it all comes down to marketing. If I tell people I’m an anarchist, propagandists before me have convinced them that this word means someone who is a mask-wearing, bomb-wielding lunatic. If I use the term “anarcho-capitalist,” they assume I’m some kind of egg-head with my head in the clouds who doesn’t understand anything (usually because they’ve never heard the term and so they think it sounds too complicated to be realistic). If I tell them, however, that I’m a free market libertarian like Thomas Jefferson, then they can get an idea of my perspective. Then it’s just a matter of time to show them that Jefferson was also slightly too authoritarian. :)

      In short, demand liberty now, but don’t expect to convince the masses without resorting to propaganda (or, to use a euphemism of my own, reverse-brainwashing).

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