Misleading the Taxpayer: the Per-Pupil Expenditure Dilemma: How Much Do We Spend Per Pupil?

The Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a libertarian organization that opposes current levels of government spending, has just put out a new report called “Misleading the Taxpayer: the Per-Pupil Expenditure Dilemma.” The author, Mark Jay Williams, compares various ways that New Jersey estimates education costs and concludes that the variability among different formulas amounts to systemic underestimation by local school districts and a veritable sleight-of-hand for taxpayers.
If you can compartmentalize the political bent there’s some interesting stuff. For example, New Jersey spends 54.9% more per pupil than the national average ($16,271 vs. $10,499) . Also, the three ways residents can view per pupil costs — the DOE’s User-Friendly Budgets (the “primary tool responsible for misleading taxpayers”), costs-per-pupil in the NJ State Report Cards, and The Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending – have a surprisingly wide range. The author writes, “[d]epending on the reporting source utilized, Asbury Park’s per-pupil expenditures ranged from $22,090 to $39,149, a difference of $17,059.

Madison’s recently finalized 2011-2012 budget spends about $372,000,000 for 24,861 students ($14,963/student).