Back-to-School Blues (UPDATE)

February 25, 2018

Back-to-School Blues (UPDATE)

My article as originally published in American Thinker:

I have two children who just started back at public school here in sunny California and I’ve already got the back-to-school blues.  It looks to be another year of adjusted schedules, fundraisers, buying supplies that I thought the school was supposed to provide, and watching teary-eyed teachers getting sent home with pink pieces of paper.  Also, it seems like I’m always hearing something to the effect that — it’s because of those budget cuts.  And I’ve been hearing it for years.

The problem is that I am having hard time finding these supposed cuts.  From what I’ve been able to discern (using the government’s numbers) here and here for starters, it looks like after adjusting for inflation, spending per student nationally has increased almost threefold over the last 40 years (remember: per student spending accounts for population increases).  Shouldn’t we be getting three times the services (heck, I’d settle for 1½ times) instead of the continued reduction of services?  And after reading this Cato piece about the costs being even higher than advertised, I’m not sure what to think.  Am I reading all this stuff correctly?

And this gives a little perspective to some of what we’ve been told in the past:

After adjustment for inflation, current expenditures per student in fall enrollment at public schools rose during the 1980s, remained stable during the first part of the 1990s, and rose again after 1992-93. There was an increase of 37 percent from 1980-81 to 1990-91; a change of less than 1 percent from 1990-91 to 1994-95 (which resulted from small decreases at the beginning of this period, followed by small increases after 1992-93); and an increase of 32 percent from 1994-95 to 2007-08.

Wait a minute!  I thought we were told that Reagan and Bush 41/43 instituted massive cuts in education!  Keep in mind that the 37% and 32% increases quoted were after inflation!  In real dollars, both increases were around 100%.

Back in Cali you’ll find that recent per student spending peaked for the 2010/11 year at $11,154 and for 2011/12 drops to $10,703, which is slightly less than the 2009/10 year at $10,921.  Hardly draconian, given the increases over the years.  Considering the current economic environment in the US, I doubt the average household would have any problem “surviving” that kind of cut.

The California pie chart shows that 61.5% of the spending goes to “classroom instruction.”  I think my daughter’s classroom has 32 kids in it this year.  So that’s $342,496 total or $210,635 for “classroom instruction” — in just one classroom.  Shhhh — don’t tell the teachers.

Who would tolerate this in the real (think free-market) world?  If you hired a contractor 40 years ago to build a semi-custom home, in an average neighborhood, using average finishes, wouldn’t you think that — again, using inflation-adjusted dollars — you could build the same home today for the same price?  What if your contractor told you that to build this same house would cost nearly three times more than it did 40 years ago (yes, inflation-adjusted) but that the roof would leak and you would have to paint it yourself?  You would show him the door (or just throw him out the window).  If you’re able to understand 3rd-grade math, you would rightfully expect either three homes for that price or a much, much larger custom home.

We all need to raise our hands and start asking questions instead of just blindly accepting the narrative — it’s because of those budget cuts.  Logic seems to dictate that the money isn’t going to the places that it should.  Don’t you think that it may be time for a bunch of people to get expelled over this?


I’m still hearing a lot of local talk about “massive” school budget cuts here in California so I’m posting Governor Brown’s proposed budget summary for 2012-13.  So where are these massive cuts?  Were the small decreases for the 2011-12 school years really “massive”?

The Governor claims that this budget is dependant upon passage of his tax initiative which he says would add 6.9 billion to education spending.  If his tax increase does pass, look for a net revenue decrease as more and more businesses head for the exits in this already over-taxed state.  Threats of funding cuts in education and public safety are a typical scare tactic.  I have a feeling that without the job-killing tax increase, the money will somehow be “found” at the last moment.

The Governor claims that school spending reached an all time high in 2007-08.  The per pupil spending for those years was $9,706.

Even if we brought per pupil spending down to 2007-8 levels I hardly think it would be a disaster.  Again, adjusted for inflation, schools get nearly three times what they did forty years ago on a per pupil basis.   We’ve all had to tighten our belts over the last few years.  At least those of us in the private sector have had to.

K‑12 School Spending and Attendance

Per‑Pupil Spending

Total per‑pupil expenditures from all sources are projected to be $10,610 in 2011‑12 and

$11,246 in 2012‑13, including funds provided for prior year settle‑up obligations. K‑12

Proposition 98 per‑pupil expenditures in the Budget are $7,815 in 2012‑13, up significantly

from the $7,096 per‑pupil provided in 2011‑12. (See Figure K12‑01). Figure K12‑02

displays the revenue sources for schools.   Link  


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