this is the second part of a four-part series called "Fed Up With Government-Run Education".
Government-run education relies on spending your tax dollars without your input on decisions that affect the classroom. A majority of the public depends on government to provide quality education; however the consequence of not understanding how and how well taxpayer dollars are spent is a problem. A fundamental flaw in public education spending is the inability of government-run schools to adjust spending based on individual student’s learning style, needs, and challenges to keep students focused on their education.
The quality of government-run education will improve only when families, communities, and taxpayers as a whole are included and active in the education process. These groups must use their power as parents, taxpayers, and voters to send the education establishment the message that the low quality of education will not be tolerated.
One problem reformers have is that, in today’s society where information is readily available on multiple search engines and web pages, misinformation and misperceptions about the education system dominates the discussion. For example, when Delaware residents were asked in a 2014 Friedman Foundation survey about how much they thought the state was spending per child per year on public education, 86 percent of respondents underestimated or could not guess the cost of education. Before being told the correct amount 50 percent assumed spending was too low. When re-asked the same question after being told the correct amount spent per year the number who still thought too little was being spent shrank to 37 percent.1
A 2007 survey by the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) demonstrates the power of recasting the argument to get a desired result. In that survey the overwhelming 31 point favorable advantage charter schools have over public schools was reduced to five points when the question was re-asked adding concern for the state budget.2
Delaware is one of the leading states in K-12 education spending and over the past six years has continued to increase per pupil spending.3
In a report from the Delaware Public Policy Institute (DPPI) entitled “Toward More Effective Financing of Student Achievement in Delaware Schools”, the authors wrote (Emphasis added):
“This relatively high level of spending is not a recent phenomenon. It did not result from out-performance of Delaware’s economy compared to the nation or an outgrowth of additional revenues...For at least three decades; Delaware’s ranking in education spending per pupil has been in the top ten nationally and never dipped below thirteenth. Recent public education spending continues to sustain this investment. Public education spending has grown at a rate almost two percent annually more than inflation on a per pupil basis in last decade”4
The authors also wrote:
“Delaware public school system is comparatively well funded by virtually every measure. Apples-to-apples comparisons of funding levels are difficult to make because of the cost-of-living and the composition of the student populations affect the cost of delivering educational services. Therefore, the best measure to compare funding of education is education spending for regional cost differences. On this measure, Delaware ranks sixth nationally.” 5
How much does Delaware spend? The confusion most Delawareans have regarding the cost of K-12 education is understandable given the lack of transparency. For this article ‘current cost’ is from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) website. Since ‘total cost’ is not on that site, and to be consistent, the total cost reflected here is from the Friedman Foundation 2014 survey 6 which is $2,500 less than other estimates.
DDOE reports public school districts current expenditure is $12,734 per-student. By county average: Kent $11,708, New Castle County $13,062 and Sussex County $12,993. 7
When asked in the 2014 survey less than one out of ten (only 7%) of respondents could estimate the per-student cost, 20% thought the cost was less than $4,000 and 36% didn’t know. And, the gap in understanding is even wider when asked about total spending which includes debt service, facilities, construction and other programs.
Delaware has consistently been one of the highest spending-per-pupil states. The cost of education is even more revealing when viewed in the context of a single child’s education experience.
Total Cost* Kindergarten -- High School Degree $16,454 $213,902
Current Expenditure* Kindergarten -- High School Degree $12,734 $165,542
Cost of High School Freshman Dropout $12,734 $127,340
*See graphs by clickin "Download Document Here" for explanation
To understand the total cost for students that go on to obtain an advanced degree, tuition only at University of Delaware is:
Tuition U of D Four Degree Completed in Four Years $12,342 9 $49,368
Tuition U of D Four Degree Completed in Six Years $12,342 $74,052
The point is to understand how a significant amount of taxpayer money is spent on education. Too often the focus is on how much or how little is spent on public education without connecting this cost to the actual results. The question is how well it is spent.
In a November 5, 2014 news released posted at Delaware.gov, Governor Markell said:
"I applaud the administrators, educators, students and families of these schools who have worked hard to make progress for our students," said Gov. Jack Markell in a news release. "As we recognize these improvements, its important that we remember that the statistics arent just numbers. They represent young people who will have better opportunities to reach their potential, thriving in the classroom and beyond."
The graphs in the "Download Document Here" section show the need for more explanation of costs. In a single class of twenty five students 39 percent of current expenditures and 28 percent of total cost is for the teacher. What exactly is in "other" spending?
The truth is that over the past six years the state spent nearly $8 billion on education 10 (the single largest item in the state budget) and students are not thriving in the classroom and beyond.
In his annual report on education, Lt Governor Denn was unable to explain the drop in direct education spending.
“Across the board, spending on direct educational expenses dropped for the second consecutive year. The districts do not report statistics in a way that allows for a precise description of what caused this overall change. Possible explanations could include increases in energy, fuel, and food costs at a time when other costs (such as salary) have been tightly controlled.”
The question isn’t how much Delaware spends. The question is how well it spends.
Here are recommendations for what the state Legislature and Governor Markell can do to improve education in Delaware.
• Require a detailed examination of effectiveness of current spending; and require a cost-benefit analysis of all proposed programs.
• Require any administrative agency proposing new regulation to include immediate and long-term cost-benefit estimates in sufficient time for public comment before implementation.
• Require a formal ongoing internal and external audit process of agencies and districts.
• Before considering new taxes, charter an education spending “Nothing is off limits” review panel like the recent one created to find new taxes and ways to broaden taxes already imposed by the state.11
Families and taxpayers have waited for today’s traditional education system to deliver improvements. In the past six years performance has not improved. Centralized authority has become even more autocratic setting spending priorities with little debate or disclosure and with significant impact on children and communities.
How much and how well Delaware uses taxpayer dollars for public education is a critical component in the broader school choice discussion. Parents have lost faith in the efficacy of public education accelerating the move toward more choice via Charter Schools and innovative parent funding models like Education Savings Accounts (ESA). These models have proven effective in Delaware and elsewhere and should be part of the mix.
Let’s try an all-the-above solution, encourage more disclosure and discussion at the school level. That is where the greatest need and opportunities reside.
Senior Policy Advisor
Caesar Rodney Institute
1 Paul DiPerna, “Delaware K-12 & School Choice Survey, What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education”, October 2014, “Current Expenditures” include instruction, instructional support services, and other elementary and secondary current expenditures, but excludes debt service, facilities, construction and other programs.http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/Delaware-K-12-and-School-Choice-Survey.aspx
2 Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) and Belden Russonello & Stewart survey, “Fix the Schools We Have First, Delawareans consider the expansion of charter schools”, December 2007
3 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011
4 Delaware Public Policy Institute Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Financing Delaware’s Public Education”, http://www.delawarepublicpolicy.org/DPPI%20Education%20Report.pdf
5 Ibid, p4.
6 Paul DiPerna, “Delaware K-12 & School Choice Survey, What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education”, October 2014, http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/Delaware-K-12-and-School-Choice-Survey.aspx
7 Delaware Department of Education, http://profiles.doe.k12.de.us/SchoolProfiles/State/Finance.aspx
8 For this analysis constant SY2012-2014 dollars has been used.
9 University of Delaware, http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2015/jul/tuition070714.html
10 Total spending is nearly $14 billion when all federal, state and local fund sources are added.
11 Ken Lewis, University of Delaware Professor and member of the tax panel, http://www.delawareonline.com/story/firststatepolitics/2014/12/16/delaware-taxes-panel/20477569/
Click the link to see a breakdown chart of Delawares education spending.