Who says Oregon spends $13,230 per public school student? The National Education Association, that’s who!

By Steve Buckstein

Ever since Oregon’s property tax limitation Measure 5 shifted the bulk of education funding from local sources to the state general fund in 1990, public education advocates have claimed that our schools are severely underfunded, spending less than most other states. They want the legislature to raise taxes now to rectify this supposed crisis.

Ask a knowledgeable Oregonian how much money is spent per student in our public schools and they might say the number is about $8,781, which is what the state currently gives school districts per student.

But, ask the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, and you’ll get a much different answer. According to the NEAs just-released Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, when you count local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230. That puts us five percent above the national average of $12,572. Oregon spends more than 33 other states.*

Add in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, and that $13,230 number goes up to total expenditures per student of $14,911.**

Even at the lower number, public schools spend over $396,000 a year for each 30-student classroom. Subtract the average teacher salary plus benefits of some $85,000, and Oregonians should ask where the additional $300,000-plus is going before even thinking about raising taxes on anyone.

* There are several ways to calculate current expenditures per student. The NEA computes two of those ways in this report. Definitions are given in the report Glossary. Oregon’s 2017 Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of pupils “under the guidance and direction of teachers” is estimated in Table I-3 to be 531,434. Oregon’s 2017 Fall Enrollment of pupils registered in the fall of the 2017 school year is estimated in Table I-6 to be 578,176. Because there are more pupils registered in school districts than actually in class on an average day, current expenditures per ADA of $13,230 (Table J-9) is higher than current expenditures per Fall Enrollment, which is $12,161 (Table J-10). Oregon spends more than 33 other states under both these methods.

** Under the two ways of calculating expenditures per student explained above, the author’s calculation of estimated 2017 total expenditures based on Average Daily Attendance of $14,911 is higher than that based on estimated Fall Enrollment, which is $13,705.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  • john.fairplay

    There’s an interesting schizophrenia in Oregon’s education establishment which allows it to publicly claim the abysmal educational outcomes in the State are “not their fault.” On the one hand, as the author notes, education advocates claim they have insufficient money to succeed. Teachers are underpaid, schools are falling apart, etc. On the other hand, in schools where extra resources are provided, such as in low-income neighborhoods where more dollars per student are spent, breakfast and lunch are free and so forth, results are no better. Education advocates in this case will tell you it’s because parents aren’t doing their jobs.

    It should be obvious by this point, and national studies show, that there’s very little connection between how much money is spent on public education and the educational attainment of students. There is something systemically wrong with our public education system that cannot be fixed by throwing more money at it.

    Perhaps we should take the teachers union’s complaints about parents more seriously. Let’s reduce teacher compensation – salary and benefits – across the board by 20 percent, and use that money to improve parenting skills in communities where they are weak. That way, we will send students to school ready to learn, and will be able to judge our teachers on whether they do. There will be no more excuses.

    Those in public education need to be held accountable for their results – and their public statements.

    • Dick Winningstad

      First rule of loberal governance: Government failure always calls for more government spending.

      • Dick Winningstad

        oooops make that liberal not loberal!

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