How much do public schools spend? More than you think

Public schools need many reforms, one of which is a better, more easily understandable reporting of how much they actually spend.

The Cato Institute has a new report on school districts in the five biggest metropolitan areas in the  country. The result? “On average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.”

The report, by Adam Schaeffer, also has some interesting and surprising comparisons of private to public schooling: “public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.” It looks at school spending in the following areas: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington DC.

One alleged advantage of government control over schools (public schools) over private ones is that they are subject to public scrutiny. But if we don’t know something as basic as how much the schools are spending, that advantage simply does not exist.

(By the way, the flip side of under-reported spending is grade inflation, a subject I’ve written about before.)

While the report does not discuss any metro areas in Kansas, it does touch on the ongoing “adequacy” lawsuit. Schaeffer writes, “Citizens need to know how much is being spent per child in order to judge whether the district has enough money to educate a child.”

In Kansas, one issue is the lack of a common chart of accounts across school districts. Another is the underreporting of liabilities held by KPERS, the pension program that includes teachers in the public schools.

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