The current demonstrations regarding police excesses are now quite properly starting to expand the discussion in social media to include the obvious and very long-term failures of our public school systems to effectively serve minority students.
Inevitably, those who try to defend the public school system’s obvious short-comings are offering their usual excuses about school funding, claiming that funding has declined since the 2008 recession took hold.
I’ve written before that I don’t see declines in recent school funding in Kentucky in the official Revenue and Expenditures Reports from the Kentucky Department of Education (For some recent examples see here and here).
But, is that also the case across the nation? Are those social media excuses right to say funding is down?
Well, here is the latest, inflation-adjusted information on education expenditures across the nation for school years 2006-07 through 2016-17 extracted from Table 236.55 in the US Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics 2019.
The data is presented in two main formats using either average daily attendance (section in yellow) or total fall student enrollment figures (section in pink) to calculate the per pupil amounts.
As you can see, whether we are talking total expenditures – which include just about everything except for spending on community services, private school programs, adult education, and other programs not allocable to expenditures per student at public schools – or current expenditures, which generally only include fairly direct spending on classroom instruction, excluding things like capital outlay for construction and debt service, the latest 2016-17 school year amounts are the highest in every column. This is true whether we calculate the per pupil amounts using the average daily attendance figure or the total school fall enrollment figure.
It is interesting to note the information in the Annual Percent Change in Current Expenditure column on the far right of the table. After the recession of 2008 really took hold, schools did encounter drops in inflation-adjusted funding. That decay went on until 2012-13. Since then, funding has been on the rise, and by 2016-17 had risen higher than any previous year, including those years before the 2008 recession took hold.
So, let’s admit the obvious, our schools are not getting the job done for our kids, especially our minority kids. And, let’s not be so quick to allow that it’s all excused by money issues.
There is money in the system; but, is it being spent well?
And, if we just throw more money at our schools without fixing deeper problems, we probably won’t do anything to help the obvious inequities minority kids face. And, yes, it matters.
Hat Tip to Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom