What is the Cost of Educating Kids?

Quite frequently local municipalities provide data detailing how much money is spent per pupil for budget disclosure. But are the numbers we are provided the real cost of educating kids in the United States?

It should be a pretty easy calculation, take the total amount of money spent to run the facility, pay teacher salaries and benefits, pay the administrators, buy the books and supplies, play the utilities bill and then divide that by the number of kids in the school.

But what if a town or city is only using money appropriated to the schools that is contributed by the local tax base in their per-pupil spending numbers?

Washington D.C. is doing just that when disclosing per-pupil spending. In the April 6 edition of The Washington Post, Andrew Coulson writes an editorial about the Real Cost of Public Schools. Coulson is director of the Cato Institutes Center for Educational Freedom.

We’re often told that public schools are underfunded. In the District, the spending figure cited most commonly is $8,322 per child, but total spending is close to $25,000 per child — on par with tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school Chelsea Clinton attended in the 1990s.

What accounts for the nearly threefold difference in these numbers? The commonly cited figure counts only part of the local operating budget. To calculate total spending, we have to add up all sources of funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade, excluding spending on charter schools and higher education. For the current school year, the local operating budget is $831 million, including relevant expenses such as the teacher retirement fund. The capital budget is $218 million. The District receives about $85.5 million in federal funding. And the D.C. Council contributes an extra $81 million. Divide all that by the 49,422 students enrolled (for the 2007-08 year) and you end up with about $24,600 per child.

How does your community stack up? When they provide per-pupil spending are they including grant money from the state and federal government? What about funding from local businesses and larger corporations?

Concerning expenses, are they including capital expenses such as maintenance and expansion of school buildings? Teacher retirement funds? Certainly these expenses would also be required of private schools.

With D.C. private school tuition averaging about $15,000 per year as compared to the $24,000-plus spent in D.C. public schools, parents should be concerned – but they’re not.