Spending more for less
December 29, 2006 9:16 AM   Subscribe

How is our government education funding spent?

This has been bugging me for a while. We spend $12,000 per child on education, more than any other qualified nation outside of Switzerland, and yet our results tend to be much lower than these other nations. I see the schools in my area looking dilapidated and I know that they never have enough books while teachers are not getting rich either.

So where is this money going?
posted by aburd to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Info here.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2006

I don't think you can look at national averages here. School funding also (mostly?) comes from state and local sources; in the middle and high public schools I went to, each high school was its own school district and its funding was high because the surrounding property was expensive, generating more property taxes, which were used for education funding. In cities or other poorer areas, or in states like California where laws froze much property tax increases, then the lack of local property taxes often means those particular schools get less money.

I don't know about Switzerland, but I know in France, for example, that the nationalized education system doesn't allow these huge disparities between schools to happen -- each student really does get more or less the same amount of money spent on him or her. Plus, nationalized systems are able to spread out teachers more democratically; in France teachers are randomly assigned to any school within the entire country, whereas in the US, most experienced teachers try to avoid (underfunded) inner city schools, so that good teachers go to good schools with good funding, and other schools languish.
posted by occhiblu at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2006

Best answer: More info on disparities by state and district.

Expenditures on schooling are not equal from state to state. Some of the disparity can be explained by differing costs of educational input costs such as real estate and teacher salaries. However, when the numbers are adjusted to reflect regional wages and prices, there is still a large gap between state spending. Accounting for cost of living and price differences, New Jersey spent about twice as much as Utah per student. Within a state spending between districts also varies. In an "average" state about one student in eight would live in a district that pays $3,800 or less, and one student in eight lives in a district that pays $5,400 or more. ...

Compared to other countries, the United States spends the same amount per-student as France, less than Sweden and Canada, and more then Japan and West Germany. However, there is much range within the states. Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, for example all spend more than Sweden and Germany. Mississippi spends about as much as the countries who spend the least: Japan, Australia, Spain, and Hungary. ...

While the average spending per pupil in a given state tells one story, the difference between districts within a state tells another. For example, average expenditure in New York in 1988 was $5,500 per child. In the suburbs, spending levels were $11,000 and higher in some areas. Obviously, some school districts are spending much less than $5,500 per student.

posted by occhiblu at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2006

Accepting the metric "dollars spent per child" turns out to be a bad idea. There is not all that much correlation between dollars spent and usefulness of education.

Maybe that's because what's useful in education is itself up to debate. The idea that schools are meant to create good employees is implicit in every initiative to equip schools with computers, and that is so irritating to me I can hardly bear it. Typically, what ends up being the curriculum is part education, part indoctrination and all mediocrity.

Many problems benefit from analysis that begins: what are we trying to do, what benefits should we look for and what's a decent metric. All of these points are so muddled in the education debate that what we have in the US is a calcified structure based on nothing in particular.
posted by jet_silver at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2006

The question isn't how much is spent per child, but how much is actually used in the education of said child. For example, I've worked with a few local educational boards and the amount of money that's been spent on secretaries for the multitude of administrators is usually a significant double-digit percentage of the funds. In the districts I've worked with, if the number was $12,000/child, I'd be willing to bet that $2000 of that actually got to the level of the child.

That being said, the bulk of the blame needs to go to the parents. During a recent parent-teacher day, 65 parents showed up in a school of 600 children. In most districts, it was unofficial policy that even if a student failed all of their classes, if the parent complained the student was pushed ahead to the next grade to avoid a lawsuit.

It's the teachers and educators job to provide the information to the students, it's the parents job to ensure the children learn it.
posted by Spoonman at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2006

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