How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student?

money.serendipityThumb How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student?No other question in public education seems to start an argument more than this one. It shouldn’t be so hard for taxpayers to get an answer to this question. But it is.

One reason is that school groups tend to see spending from an “inside” perspective, rather than from a taxpayer’s perspective. From the inside, it matters whether the money comes from the state, the feds, the local Educational Service District or local property taxes. There are different pots of money and they pay for different things. Most education insiders hear “spending,” and they immediately think about their own particular budget.

From a taxpayer’s perspective, none of this matters, since all the money comes from them. They just want to know how much tax money public schools spend to educate the kids.

This is why you have to be careful about exactly how you phrase the question. If you ask how much the state spends, or how much a district spends, you will get an answer that is technically correct; but it will not include all the money being spent on our children.

The Oregon School Boards Association has even created a two-page primer to help persuade the public to ignore some spending:

Part of the confusion comes from calculating a per-student figure from an “all funds revenue” budget instead of an “operating revenue” budget. An all-funds budget (the bigger of the two) is misleading because it includes money that is counted twice, or is transferred between accounts — which isn’t “new” money. All-funds revenue also includes bond money used to pay off construction debt. An operating revenue budget shows a truer picture of resources per student, especially in comparisons to other states. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics uses only operating revenue budgets.

The OSBA is correct that money should not be double-counted. However, the claim that construction debt should be ignored is dubious. School Districts never like to include the capital construction bonds in their per-student spending. Their explanation is that this money isn’t “fungible” (meaning they can’t spend it on day-to-day activities) within their annual budgets. This is true.

Capital construction bonds are loans used to pay for school building construction and/or remodeling. When the taxpayers pass these bond measures, the districts get a lump sum for construction and then spend the next decade or two paying back the loan (with interest) using money collected from property taxes.

So should this annual loan repayment be included in the per-student spending figure in Oregon?

Of course it should. These are basically mortgage payments.

The OSBA document uses figures from four years ago and calculates per-student spending in Oregon at $8,560. They freely admit that they aren’t counting $1,700 spent on capital construction.

So, the real spending figure per student in Oregon was $10,260 in the 2003-04 school year.

Of course, the figures used by the OSBA don’t match the figures given by the Department of Education, which just proves how hard it is to get reliable information on school spending. Even The Chalkboard Project’s Open Books website does not count capital construction/expenditures when calculating the per-student figures listed on their site.

To my knowledge, the OSBA has not updated their calculations to include more recent school spending figures. But according to their own basic numbers, the per-student figure was more than $10,000 four years ago, even though they use the same numbers to produce a lower number.

The State of Oregon still does not provide a simple and accurate per-student spending figure defined as:

All Taxpayer Money Spent on Public Education in Oregon
————— (Divided By) —————–
The Number of Public School Students in Oregon

Taxpayers have a right to expect government to be transparent about spending and to provide honest figures””calculated from a taxpayer’s perspective.


Matt Wingard is Director of the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

tt twitter big4 How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student? tt facebook big4 How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student? tt linkedin big4 How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student? tt reddit big4 How Much Does Oregon Spend Per Student?

Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 14 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    I would like to posit this thought.

    Is there a connection between the quality of education in Oregon and the fact that the people running the schools can not accurately account for their funding?

    • CRAWDUDE

      More smoke and mirrors, with the amount now correctly and honestly adjusted. Oregon now ranks in the top 7 as far as I can tell for “cost per student” spending. Wow, you’d think our students would also do a lot better on their test scores.

      I’m curious if Matt has the breakdown on how much of this money goes to employee pay and benefits?

      • eagle eye

        Huh??? How do you figure? Do you think other schools spend nothing on capital construction for schools?

        The comparisons are between operating costs by state.

        • CRAWDUDE

          I believe the article writer was implying that other states tabulate the construction / maintenance costs in their per student figures.

          The aricle is pretty clear, you may want to refer your questions to the writer.

          • Matt Wingard

            In fact, most state’s have the same transparency issues. The taxpayer will have to determine for himself/herself whether their state’s figures include construction costs.

          • eagle eye

            I don’t believe it. The AFT, the NEA, the Heritage Foundation, the Census Bureau all have tabulations of per-student spending per state. I simply don’t believe that all of these organizations would be too incompetent not to notice glaring inconsistencies or transparency issues in compiling these data.

          • Matt Wingard

            The National Center for Educational Statistics uses only operating revenue budgets. When evaluating any figures from the groups you mentioned, I suggest reading the fine print. I agree that they are not likely to create state-to-state comparisons that are inconsistent in what is counted. However, a state-by-state comparison of “operating” budgets is not counting all the money being spent.

          • that is true

            But it’s really not that important, in my opinion. Sure, it costs money to build schools. I would have guessed that on my own. Would including that in the state-by-state comparisons change very much?

          • eagle eye

            true, but it’s really not that important, in my opinion. Sure, it costs money to build schools. I would have guessed that on my own. Would including that in the state-by-state comparisons change very much?

    • Marvin McConoughey

      Jerry asks if their is a connection between education quality and inaccurate school management. The answer is “Yes.” The connection is that school managers who cannot produce accurate data are poor choices to be affecting an education system that should be dedicated to creating numerically literate graduates. As we see now, many high school graduates are unable to discern a disastrously written house loan, car loan, or even to use wisdom at check cashing facilities.

      I’ve assumed simple inaccuracy. If the true intent is to deceive taxpayers, as I suspect, that goal is even more nefarious.

      • Marvin McConoughey

        Students should also learn, as I apparently did not, how to use “there” and “their” correctly.

  • lw

    Now I know why the Portland Development Commission also excludes debt service cost on bonds as NOT a cost of doing business. Our Oregon public school systems has taught our planners that only the hard costs are the cost of a service, and not the borrowing that the service entails. How nice.

    Many times PDC staff has said that a project’s total cost doesn’t include the loan costs. Our education system is working.

  • Larry

    The K-12 edu establishment is for the union members, not the students. The more money thrown in ‘for the kids’ will quickly be vacuumed up for union pay and benefits.

    Just look at what TeddyK did this last year: 19% gain, over 75% went for additional pay to existing teachers & staff.

    Reduced class sizes? NOPE!

    Fatter pay checks and more benefits for existing staff? Yep!

  • Bill

    I did some simple math based upon a number I got from the Register Guard.

    Reported: Springfield school district will save 3.56 million by closing the schools for 5 days.
    That equals $712,000 per day in the district.
    According to http://www.sps.lane.edu/district/quick_facts/index.html
    there are 10,597 students in 2006-2007.
    that equals $67.19 per student per day in Springfield.

    I realize that the above number is not all inclusive (state and federal) and that is what makes me mad as it should be extremely easy for the public to find exactly how much it cost per student per day/year.

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)