As we close out this school year, taxpayers may wonder want kind of bang we’re getting for our educational buck. Texans now spend more than $11,000 per year on public education – with less than half going toward instructional expenses.

In the 2008-2009 school year — the last for which data is available — Texas schools spent $11,084 per kid. Ten years ago, Texas spent was spending just $5,857.

If per-pupil spending had risen with inflation, the cost after 10 years would have approximately been $7,545. So where is the money going? Well, it’s not going to the classroom.

If you think of each kid the way school bureaucrats do — as bags of money — and consider your average third-grade class capped at 22 students per teacher, that’s $243,848 sitting there.

But the money isn’t going to the teacher. Average teacher pay was $47,313 in the 08-09 school year (up from $34,357 a decade ago).

So where’s the other $200,000 derived from our average classroom going? Seems a bit much for overhead, doesn’t it?

Of the $11,084 spent per pupil on public education in 2009, only $4,831 went for anything that could even remotely be considered “instructional” expenses as defined by the Texas Education Agency.

Over the last decade, student enrollment has risen 15 percent — from 3.9 million students to 4.6 million students. In that same period, the number of teachers grew accordingly, at 19.3 percent. We now have 14.4 students for every teacher (in 1999 it was 15.2 students per teacher).

But non-teachers? That’s where the growth is. We had 22 percent more in 2009 than in 1999.

So for all this spending, and for all these new, non-classroom employees, surely there’s been some marked improvement in academic performance. Right? I mean, that’s why we spend money in public education…

Actually, there’s been a decline in results. The average Texas SAT score in 1999 was a 992. Over 10 years it has fallen to 988. The SAT may not be a perfect barometer, but it’s a pretty consistent outside measurement. Given what we’re paying per kid, surely it’s reasonable to expect a little improvement, right?

Our public schools are spending dollars almost faster than the taxpayers can earn them. We’re told to support public education spending for the sake of the children. But not too much actually seems to make it to where the kids are.

As parents and taxpayers, we have to demand that more dollars flow to the classroom, not from our pockets but from the over-fed bureaucracy whose bloated weight is dragging down our teachers and academically endangering our kids.

So when your superintendent or school board next asks you for more money, bigger budgets and growing staff, we should demand they show us precisely how it will directly improve the education Texas’ kids receive. Right now, we’re clearly not getting our money’s worth.


Michael Quinn Sullivan

A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Michael Quinn Sullivan and his wife have three children. He is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. Check out his podcast, “Reflections on Life and Liberty.”

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