There is a constant battle going on between conservatives and liberals concerning the cost of education. The conservatives feel that our kids’ education would be better served by slashing the education budgets (while at the same time giving tax breaks to the wealthy, but that’s another subject). They point out that our K-12 education costs have tripled since 1970 (adjusted for inflation), and that privately run schools are run much less expensively than public schools. Here’s an article that explains their complaints rather well. Problem is, as with so many other issues, the conservatives are using false arguments and refuse to see the big picture.
This is not to say the conservatives are wholly wrong. Our schools are far from perfect, that much is obvious. I’ve agreed with conservatives for many years now that the NEA is too powerful, that the tenure system needs to be revamped and the schools need to be able to fire underperforming teachers. But that’s not the whole story; far from it, in fact.
Not so long ago, Dave Nalle, head of the Republican Liberty Caucus, posted a complaint that only 49% of education budgets in Texas go towards teachers’ salaries, and that the other 51% went towards administrative costs. His solution? Slash the administrations!
Now Mr. Nalle is generally reasonable and certainly intelligent, but on this one issue, what he didn’t understand, and didn’t reply to when this was pointed out, was what those administrative costs entailed in the remaining 51%:
Buses – 3%
Building construction and maintenance – 9%
Heating, cooling, lighting – 3%
Security staff and school nurse – 2%
Instructional aides and instructional supplies – 9%
State-mandated teacher training and curricular development – 3%
Lunch – 5%
Guidance counselors, guidance materials, loan and post-secondary advancement information – 4%
Day-to-day operations, non-teacher school staff and administration – 5%
Extracurricular Activities – 3%
District-level staff to coordinate all of the above – 3%
So when the conservatives want to cut billions from the education budget, where exactly are those cuts to be made? The conservatives almost never point out exactly where the waste is! They cry, “The cost of education has tripled since 1970, but the quality of education has not; therefore the extra money spent must be wasted somehow!”
So let’s go down the list. Even adjusted for inflation, are buses as cheap to purchase and maintain as they were 40 years ago? No. What about building construction and maintenance? No. How about utilities and security staff and nurses and aides and instructional supplies (including computers we didn’t have 40 years ago)? No.
Go down the list: the costs of all these have greatly increased. That is, for the ones that existed forty years ago. The increased costs the conservatives rail about do not take into account that in the past forty years most schools have found that they need computers, and people to maintain the computers and the networks. Forty years ago, security staff were almost nonexistent, and there was usually only one school nurse as opposed to the several aides and nurses needed to take care of the severely disabled students that now attend regular school instead of being hidden at home. The reader can look at the list and imagine all the changes that have happened over the past four decades, and the increased costs they entailed. These are not some kind of strawmen in the argument, these are hard-and-fast reality.
But what about the argument that private schools are run so much more cheaply than public schools, yet often achieve better results? That, too, is a false argument. Why? Because there is no private school that does everything that every public school is required to do. Let’s look at what private schools don’t do:
- No private school has a legal mandate to provide transportation to and from school for every student within its district, and busing is not cheap!
- Very few private schools provide nurses and aides dedicated to the severely disabled children that any public school is required to educate. In fact, most private schools would turn away such students, saying that they didn’t have the resources to help them.
- Private schools, unlike public schools, can turn away children who don’t speak English. I’m sure that there are many who accept them anyway, but they don’t have to.