They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Adam Schaeffer:

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.
To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.
Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.
To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Madison spends $15,241.30 per student, according to the 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget.

2 thoughts on “They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools”

  1. so what’s the current annual cost at Edgewood or Madison Country Day, for perspective’s sake?

  2. According to the Citizens’ Budget, the district’s total net expenditures for 2009-2010 are $370.3 million. This includes $11.6 million for the Madison Schools and Community Recreation Department, which to my mind should not be included in the average cost of educating a student. Subtracting MSCR expense brings the total down to $358.7 million.
    (This total figure does not include $51 million in interfund transfers that are shown on the Citizens’ Budget. I don’t exactly know what that $51 million represents. I asked about it at our Board meeting last night and was told it was a bookkeeping requirement imposed by DPI that primarily addressed special education funding, but that it did not represent actual additional expenditures.)
    Total MMSD enrollment this year is 24,295. If one accepts the $358.7 million in actual school-related expenses figure, this brings the MMSD expenditures to about $14,800 per student.
    In answer to Dave’s question, according to its website, Edgewood High School has a cost per student of $10,436. Madison Country Day School (MCDS) charges tuition that ranges from about $13,000 for kindergarten up to about $14,000 for high school, plus a per-family fee of $450 for facility use. MCDS states on its website that it depends on contributions to make up the difference between its costs and the tuition it charges, so its per student cost is somewhere north of the district’s.
    Why does the district spend more than $4,000 per student more than Edgewood? According to the Citizens’ Budget, the district’s costs for teachers for special education (not counting special education assistants), English language learners and alternative programs works out to about $3,000 per student across the district. These are costs that private schools are generally able to avoid. (Edgewood charges an additional fee to its students that make use of its Learning Resource Center.) The district also spends about $10 million on transportation (including a little bit to transport private school students). Edgewood does not provide transportation; MCDS charges $1,868.40 per year for bus service. The district also ends up paying out about $4 million attributable to out-of-district transfers.
    When all is said and done, my guess is that if a typical Edgewood High School student were enrolled in one of our four MMSD high schools instead, the district’s cost of educating that student would be about the same as Edgewood’s, and considerably less than Madison Country Day’s.

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