American K-12 shortchanges kids and teachers but spaghettifies your bank account



The Reason Foundation released a new study called Public Education at a Crossroads: A Comprehensive Look at K-12 Resources and Outcomes for All 50 States.

Nationwide data from 2002 to 2020 show that inflation-adjusted public-school revenues grew by 25%, going from $12,852 per student to $16,065 per student. During this time, teachers’ average real salaries decreased by 0.6%, going from $64,522 to $64,133. Despite student enrollment increasing by 6.6%, total public-school staff grew by 13.2%. Much of this can be attributed to growth in non-teaching staff, which increased by 20% across states. Additionally, real spending on employee benefits increased by 78.6% (or $1,499 per student), accounting for nearly half of the per student increase in funding.

Despite this massive increase in spending per pupil, teacher salaries declined over recent decades:

How, you might be thinking to yourself right about now, is it even possible to have average teacher salaries decline while spending per pupil increased by so much? The Reason Foundation authors helpfully explain that a massive increase in non-teaching staff in public schools is partially to blame:

Whatever it is that all those non-teaching staff are doing, it sadly doesn’t seem to have much to do with student learning:

Read the whole Reason study here, and if you are looking for a silver lining it may lie in the expression that things that cannot go on forever don’t.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.