The $13,000 Student

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

It’s not hard to understand why many parents and students believe that Oregon’s public school system needs more money. They see crowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and shrinking course options. What they don’t see is all the money that isn’t getting down to the classroom.

Take, for example, the Portland Public School System. This year its general fund spending is almost $9,000 per student.

That means the district spends $270,000 for a typical 30 student classroom. If teachers earn $70,000 including benefits, where does the remaining $200,000 go?

And that isn’t even all the money. Portland’s all-funds budget includes more money for such things as facility acquisition and construction, public pension bonds and debt service.

The all-funds budget is nearly $13,000 per student. Thus, a 30 student classroom represents $390,000 in total district spending; $320,000 after paying the teacher. That should be more than enough to provide a world-class education. If it’s not enough, spending advocates should tell us why.

The high cost is likely the result of the monopoly nature of the public school system. Parents don’t pay the bills, taxpayers do. Letting parents spend those dollars on the public or private schools of their choice would put competitive pressure on the system; driving costs down and quality up.

Before the $13,000 student becomes a $14,000, $15,000 or even $20,000 student, we must put a brake on spending and release the brake on school choice.

Steve Buckstein is senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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