You can tell it’s the political season because politicians far and wide are responding to calls for more spending on education. Republicans in the General Assembly will tell you that, under their new leadership, total spending on education rose this year. Democrats will tell you that the spending increase was “slight” and actually declined in per-pupil terms.
No one ever says that we spend enough. Very few even ask that we get more value out of the money we do spend. As far as total dollars spent on education per-pupil in North Carolina, the consensus is that it’s about $8,500 per student in federal, state, and local money. When capital expenditures are added in, the number rises to almost $9,000 per student.
This is a great deal of money — it’s over half the $20 billion total state budget at $11 billion in just K-12 spending. In fact, when you compare dollar to dollar spending (adjusted for inflation) for 2012, we currently spend 300% more than we did in 1970. Are we receiving three times the value four decades later?
When you ask that question in Raleigh, you will most likely receive a blank stare in return. Instead, professional educrats (education bureaucrats) will tell you that North Carolina ranks a dismal 42nd in the nation in per-pupil spending this year (compared to 45th when the Democrats were in charge). You will also be presented with a mind numbing array of statistics and circular arguments in an attempt to convince you that our poor math, science, and reading skills are “not as bad as they were.” Every one of these presentations always ends with a call for yet more money to be thrown into the education pot. More money, we are assured, will fix everything.
The cold hard facts are that the US spends more on education than any other country in the world. We also spend more per student than any other country, save Switzerland, and get less for it. The UK, Canada, France, Germany and Australia all spend less than $7,000 per student and put America to shame in science, math, and reading scores. So what gives? Are we just supposed to believe that our kids are dumber than other kids in the world?
A quick review of education expenditures at the NC Department of Public Instruction’s website reveals several curious facts. When you use the Department’s own figures with a classroom of 20 children and allocate $60,000 per year to the teacher in total salary and benefits, deduct costs for transportation, meals, books and materials, you still have 54% of the money left over or almost $90,000 per classroom. That’s a lot of money for “overhead.”
Instead of dumping millions more into the system, where’s the push to spend this money wisely? How many children could receive everything they need to learn, thrive, and grow if these funds were expended on them? Why can’t we use this money to pay our teachers more?
Instead of bloated bureaucracies and endless testing, how about applying just a little bit of common sense when it comes to education? Why not tie the $8,500 to each child and send the money to the local level? Why not cut out all the state control, fire the bureaucrats and empower locally elected and locally accountable boards of education?
Here’s another crazy idea: let parents decide how the $8,500 is to be spent on their children whether it’s with a public school, charter school, or even a private school. What a revolutionary concept: trusting parents instead of politicians and bureaucrats to take care of their own children!
However, I could be wrong. The educrats may have the correct answer: all we need to do is send more money to Raleigh.
Senator Thom Goolsby is an attorney, law professor and member of the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education.