The School Funding Fraud

Politico reports that billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief aid to schools is running dry. The money must be spent by September, and there is “urgent concern over how schools might get burned when the money’s gone, as the process to request extensions to looming spending deadlines heats up in the coming months.”

Schools might be burned?!

We are led to believe that the cheapskate American taxpayers are not forking over enough cash to the government school monopoly. But the data tells a very different story.

According to the invaluable Just Facts, which is dedicated to researching and publishing verifiable data about the critical public policy issues of our time, the U.S. spent $1.2 trillion on education in 2022. The bulk of the spending, $834 billion, goes to elementary and secondary education, while $226 billion is spent on higher education, and $121 billion goes to libraries and other forms of education.

This total breaks down to $8,993 for every household in the U.S., 4.6% of the U.S. gross domestic product, and 14% of the government’s current expenditures. It’s important to note that these figures don’t include land purchases for schools and other facilities, as well as some of the costs of durable items like buildings and computers. The unfunded liabilities of post-employment non-pension benefits (like health insurance) are also not included.

Unimpressed by any such data, California Teacher Association president David Goldberg bellyached in early February that California has suffered through “decades of deliberate disinvestment in public schools. The union boss added, “This erratic system of starved school budgets during economic boom years mustn’t continue. We need to find lasting solutions to California’s broken budget system.”

We are led to believe that Golden State legislators are siphoning money from cash-poor schools. However, the Public Policy Institute of California discloses that school spending per pupil is roughly 65% higher than a decade ago in the Golden State. In 2021, the state allotted $22,684 per student, compared to $14,245 in 2012–13. This amount doesn’t include federal funds, which brings the total to almost $24,000. So, a class of 25 students costs taxpayers about $600,000.

The money grabbers’ basic assumption (or at least their selling point) is that spending more equates to better education results. Sadly, so many people buy into this myth and have done so for many years. In 2008, Dan Lips, then senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, wrote, “American spending on public K-12 education is at an all-time high and is still rising. Polls show that many believe a lack of resources is a primary problem facing public schools. Yet spending on American K-12 public education is at an all-time high. Approximately $9,300 is spent per pupil. Real spending per student has increased by 23.5 percent over the past decade and by 49 percent over the past 20 years.”

It cannot be said enough that there is no correlation between the amount of funding and the level of student proficiency. The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) noted that the U.S. had additional funding of more than $75,000 per student over a ten-year period. Still, it did not have additional positive effects on academic achievement.

In California, the return on investment is not good. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that even at $24,000 per student, only 30% of California’s 8th-graders are proficient in reading.

Another case in point is New Mexico, where K-12 public education spending increased from $2.69 billion in Fiscal Year 2018 to $3.8 billion in FY 2023, according to New Mexico Education. That translates to a hike of about $3,000 per pupil.

Yet, New Mexico is ranked second-to-last in the U.S. in standardized testing performance, with just 19% of fourth graders demonstrating proficiency in higher math and 21% achieving the same in reading. Students in New Mexico also had the lowest average SAT scores of any state.

It must be noted that much of the $190 million the feds poured into government-run schools to reverse the damage done by the COVID-related shutdowns has been misspent. A 10-month examination by The 74 reveals that many school districts haven’t used the money as they should have. Some have “pumped millions of dollars into classroom additions, upgrading athletic fields and other expenditures unrelated to the pandemic.”

Other districts invested funds in silly things like “fidget cubes” and aromatherapy supplies. Worse, some districts involved themselves in shady business deals. In San Joaquin County, CA, a state district attorney launched a criminal probe into the Stockton Unified School District for spending “roughly $7 million on ultraviolet air purifiers from a company linked to a former mayor with a history of legal trouble. A state audit pointed to the board’s decision to approve the contract even though district staff gave the proposal a low rating. Less than half of the 2,200 filters purchased were installed, and the rest are stored in a warehouse.”

Most recently, a Hayward elementary school struggling to boost low test scores and dismal student attendance spent $250,000 in federal money on “Woke Kindergarten,” an organization that trains teachers to “confront white supremacy, disrupt racism and oppression, and remove those barriers to learning.” (The teacher who publicly questioned spending $250,000 on the anti-racist teaching training program was placed on administrative leave days after he shared his concerns over Woke Kindergarten in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

A worthwhile question then becomes, “What do private schools spend?”

Just Facts finds that “the average inflation-adjusted cost of private K–12 schools in the 2019–20 school year was $9,709 per student. In contrast, the cost for public schools was $17,013 per student—or 75% more than private schools.”

The detail-minded Just Facts adds that government-run schools have a “disproportionate number of students with disabilities, who cost more to educate than other students. Accounting for this difference, the average cost of educating children in public schools is now 58% greater than in private schools. However, the cost premium of public schools is almost certainly larger than 58%. This is because government data on public school spending excludes some key items.”

In reality, our public schools, which spend money like drunken sailors, live off the work of the taxpayer and have no accountability.

But at least the sailors actually earn the money they spend.

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Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: One grammar school desk in shadow of large pile of bundled US paper currency, tinted green