Monday, May 28, 2007

Why does public education cost more in some states

Saturday I posted linking to a CNN article that the per capita cost of public education was almost three times more in New York State than in Montana. Someone commented, trying to explain that this is because New York State has more people, and that there are more "poor, uneducated, families, many who don't speak English in their homes." I started to respond with a comment, but the comment grew and grew. Here is the full response:

Reporting on the cost of education by student is a way to focus on how efficient public school districts are in various states. A large per capita expense should not be influenced by a large number of students.

There may be some increase in the amount of money spent on public education due to poor families who have children who don't speak much English. But this begs the question why does New York spend so much more money per student than other states. States near Mexico also have large numbers of students weak in English, but the states along the Mexican border do a better job with less money.

The two big costs in public education are facilities and salaries. A large per capita expense means the public school system is spending on more facilities and salaries proportionally to the number of students in the school than other states. By using per capita data we can ignore the size of the population.

One of the big problems in New York State is it is very hard to fire bad teachers. John Stossel reported back in January of this year that there are hundreds of steps, making it almost impossible to fire a bad teacher. It has gotten so bad that public school districts will put a bad teacher in a room away from students rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to fire a bad teacher.

Thomas Sowell spends a chapter in Inside American Education writing about all the various ways public schools waste money. One of the places schools waste money is putting children in special programs where there is no need. For example San Francisco put Chinese students into English as a Second Language program for Spanish children. And in Southern California immigrant students may be placed in ESL programs, even thought they speak better English than many Americans.

Last year my wife found a recent study by the U.S. Education Department reported that public schools perform favorably with private schools when students' income and socio-economic status are taken into account. The report neglected to point out that the government schools spent on average twice as much money as the private schools to achieve similar results. Public schools are not effective in using taxpayer’s money. This is one of the reasons for vouchers.

My wife went on to list other ways public schools waste money.

Public education does not effectively use tax dollars. Some states are much worse than other states. New York State may be the worse.

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christinemm said...

The simplest answer to the cost of education, regarding the teacher's salaries is the cost of living in the area. Period.

Secondly I think it matters on the method the state has with the teacher's union. Here in Connecticut we have binding arbitration. The teachers union works with the town's teachers to come up with some percentage of salary raise they want, and sometimes also negotiating on the benefits such as keeping the teacher's co-payments for medical insurance low and other insurance details.

If the town does not give the teachers what they want, here in CT, the teachers union threatens binding arbitration. This is where if the teachers refuse to accept the raise they are getting they take it to a meeting where a RETIRED TEACHER makes an evaluation of the "fairness" of the raise the town granted vs. the raise the teachers wanted. This is a legal proceeding of sorts as the town must pay lawyers to deal with this binding arbitration, so it costs the town money to do it. And how many times do you think the binding arbitration negotiator person sides with the town? As former teachers they would side with the teachers. And they have no personal stake in the negative remifications if the town has to pay more than the town boards had come up with for a negotiated price.

So that is a big reason why when you look at the teachers salaries by state, CT is SO HIGH. I think we are #1 by some lists.

The towns feel it is cheaper to give in to what they want for a raise then to pay for binding arbitration costs plus in the end, pay for the big raise anyway.

Another thing driven by the cost of living is the salary of the superintendent. Our town pays about $250K to our superintendent. They say we can't pay less as no one will take the job for any less.

Another reason for the rising cost of education is special education. The ADA Federal law in the early 90s really changed special education and so many more services are granted and the costs seem to be never=ending and unavoidable.

Our state pays more to each school if a child is labeled special education. This is why some parents wonder if their child's issues are being exaggerated just to get the label so the town can get more money from the state. I am speaking now of the little things like saying the child has a reading problem or ADD/ADHD or "sensory integration disorder" or "auditory processing disorder" which seems to be the two latest fast growing diagnoses.

Lastly the cost of the buildling and to run the building. There are tons of ways that costs to build a new building or to renovate are driven higher when compared to if a private citizen hired his own workers to build the same exact building. It seems to build or renovate a school building costs way more than any private venture.

Another topic is why despite spending more on education why the kids are learning less than in the past. The old argument that if more money was spent then the kids would learn more is not panning out in research.

Dana said...

the cost of living is huge and needs to be factored in somehow, I think.

We had friends in South Texas who worked for border control. Sometimes they complained that agents in CA got paid almost twice as much for the same work. But then when they researched the cost of living out there, they realized they wouldn't be any better off if they moved. A dollar in TX doesn't equal a dollar in SoCal.

nor in NYC.

Carol said...

There is quite a bit of variety from disctrict to district here in Ohio. The schools that spend more per capita have more programs for special ed, disabled, ADD, ADHD, etc. Some of these are great and very valuable. I have a nephew with cerebral palsy and he was given a full time assistant to help him get up and down stairs, etc.. Nice, but expensive! It seems that families with special needs flock to these districts thus driving their costs up even more.