The myth of under-investment in public schools

Sharon Kitzhaber was interviewed for the Dec. 24, 2003 Willamette Week. The former First Lady of Oregon said her son Logan attends the private French-American school. When asked why she chose a private school, she responded in part by claiming that Oregonians have “under-invested” in their government schools.

This raises the question: What, exactly, does “under-investment” mean? According to a study done in 2002 for the Oregon School Boards Association, Oregon spent an average of $7,357 per student during 2000-2001. This was higher than the national average of $7,079 and more than was spent by our neighboring states California, Washington or Idaho. By that comparison Oregon taxpayers appear to be fairly generous.

Moreover, according to the Cato Institute, the average tuition for all private schools in the U.S. during 1999-2000 was $4,689. This means Oregon spends roughly 57 percent more per student in government schools than is charged for tuition at private schools. If Ms. Kitzhaber thinks that’s still not enough, she should tell us how much she thinks is appropriate.

However, I am not expecting her to do so, because there is no way to come up with such a number. Only the market knows what we should spend on any commodity, and the education market has been destroyed by the government school monopoly. If we want an optimal investment in education, we need to restore choice and competition; otherwise we’ll just be wasting money on a self-serving bureaucracy.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO 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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