In a story about a proposal by NC Republicans to give a $2,500 tax credit to families who pay to educate their children at private schools there's a very interesting figure: $54,000.  That's the amount they say that North Carolina spends on each student in public schools each year.  That's an incredible number when you think about it and it leads me to ask a few questions of my own:

  • If the Summit School can educate kids for $16,000 in tuition a year why does it take almost triple that to educate public school children?  Before you start hollering about lunch programs and the like, let me say that I can understand why it has to be more expensive in general to compensate for the mandate of educating all children, no matter their economic, emotional or intellectual status, but does it really have to be three times more expensive?
  • Why wouldn't you give a $2,500 tax credit to any family that takes their kids off the public rolls?  They are literally saving you $50,000 if they send their kids to a private school or if they home school. One answer might be that the cost per child will go up because you're shrinking the pool of children, but I think that only highlights the inherent inefficiency of the system.  
  • I wrote a bit about the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools' budgeting last fall when I was befuddled by their textbook purchasing procedures.  At the time I was hoping to dig into the school budget so I could see how exactly funds are allocated, but I just haven't had the time to do it.  I'd still love to see how the school system spends its money, and after seeing the $54,000 figure I'd really like to know where it all goes. 

I have to believe that there's a better, more efficient way to get our kids educated. 

10 thoughts on “$54,000?

  1. Joe Jon!

    Interesting idea, but with tax breaks comes regulation, or at least that is the fear of many homeschoolers. I believe most would rather do without further government intervention in the homeschool process.
    We educate three kids in our home. I wish I had $54,000 per child, ha ha. We’d educate them in our back yard swimming pool (PE), on our new 60″ flat screen TV’s (plural!), do some serious summer course work at our beach home, and drive them around in our “school bus” Cadillac Escalade.

  2. farmer

    I’m not sure about the pay for private school teachers here. However, at the most exclusive private school in Wilmington, NC, the full time teachers were paid so little that they qualified for public assistance!

  3. 4thbg

    I suspect that it goes to support all sorts of administration and programming demanded by parents that did not stop to consider that with every new program there is an exponential increase in funding needs and administration. We all would love to have the schools be all things to all of our children, but the more look to our schools to raise our children, the more expensive and dysfunctional they become. While I lived in Minnesota, they changed the funding model for the public schools that seriously short changed the suburban districts and we had to create this – http://www.oronoalliance.org/ to fill the gaps to keep things whole, even though top line per pupil spending at the state level increased.

  4. Jon Lowder

    I agree that “mission creep” is probably a big problem. I’m fairly certain
    it would be hard to limit programs considering that every program would have
    a core constituency that would squawk if it was taken away, but as a society
    I think we need to determine what school is supposed to be about and then
    deliver the best of whatever that is.

  5. Jon Lowder

    JJ, it would be interesting to see how they’d regulate it. It’s a valid
    fear, but realistically I’m not sure how much they could do. Still, you
    bring up a valid point. I’m with you re. the way we’d spend the money. If
    the state told us they’d give us $54k for each of the kids to spend how we
    please as long as the kids pass their tests then I can pretty much guarantee
    we’d be home schooling. I envision a rather impressive multimedia learning
    center, field trips to the Caribbean (and Europe, Asia, Hawaii, etc.) and a
    “bus” that may not be an Escalade but it wouldn’t be far from it!

  6. Brian Leon

    Did anyone here ever thought that the number $54,000 per pupil was a tad bit much? Seriously, do you think that a classroom of 25 middle schoolers represent $1million plus investment from taxpayers at all levels? When there is 1.4 million children in the public school system but a state budget for education of $11 billion which covers everything from pre-K education subsidies to post -secondary institutions?
    Can anybody do simple math?
    If you really want to know how it costs to educate a child, I direct to look at this link: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/
    This is a compendium of all sorts of data and though it lags a bit as all government statistics, it is still quite useful.
    Looking at the statistical report for 2007, http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/statisticalprofile/2007profile.pdf, reveals quite a bit of information about the school system here in North Carolina.
    Looking at table 23, we can see for the latest year for data (2005-2006), it cost the state about $4900 to educate a child. Adding in federal and local dollars, it costs $7200 excluding food programs.
    Table 25 of the same report which breaks it down by county has a state contribution of $4800. Adding in federal and local contributions, it becomes about $7500 per pupil excluding the food program.
    That is a long way from $54000 per pupil.
    My guess? Someone added a zero to the figure where one should not be to the projected state amount for the 2008-2009 school year.

  7. Jon Lowder

    Brian, I agree that the number seems very high and it very likely is
    inflated. Thanks for pointing that out. Your reasoning that it might be an
    extra zero is a possibility, as is the possibility that they used the wrong
    numerator or denominator in their math. One problem is that we don’t know
    what the original source is so it’s impossible to verify.
    Thanks again for pointing out the obvious.
    Now, I still think it’s a valid debate as to how the real amount of money is
    spent, however much that is. I looked at the table you referenced and it
    doesn’t include capital expenses, which makes sense since those change
    radically from year to year. If you go a little farther down the report you
    see those expenses in a separate table and if you add them in for Forsyth
    County you roughly double the amount spent per student. In other words we
    spent as much on buildings as we did on educating the students that year.
    So that puts us at roughly $15,000 per student for the year. If you add in
    programs that are excluded from the numbers, like Head Start and nutrition
    programs then you’re probably getting a couple of thousand more. So at a
    maximum we’re looking at probably $20,000 (that’s an educated guess on my
    part) for the year per student. It’s not $54,000 but it’s still a healthy
    chunk of change. So how do we make sure the money is being spent wisely?

  8. Jim Caserta

    I think Brian is closer to the actual numbers. The author should have presented at least some sourcing as to the assertion. With 50k students, at 54k each makes a $2.7Bln budget. For reference, the complete W-S city budget is less than $400Mln.
    In 2004 WSFCS had a budget of $322Mln, so did the amount increase almost 10X to 2007? Fudging the numbers totally distorts the message of the article.
    Also, think, a 20 student class is not large, but by the article would cost about $1.1Mln. From that the teacher’s salary would be 90% overhead costs. I don’t believe it.


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