There are so many critics of public education and its funding throwing around the B word these days that I feel that I should be wearing a pith helmet and chain mail. Once you utter the word (you should pardon the expression) BILLION, the lights start to blink, the horns begin to honk and fireworks can be seen close by.

I am not sure that most people can conceive of a billion anythings. If you saw the movie, “Now you see me,” you saw a stack of 3 billion euros piled on a pallet. In school finance parlance, we now have “experts” castigating schools and school districts for spending billions upon billions of dollars. You know what the next words are, “The amount of waste in education is (choose your epithet).”

The wiser critics sometimes use placeholder words to describe the money spent on education. They refer to the taxes that people pay in abundance which leaves their pockets for no reason at all. “Hey when I was in school, there were no spending billions on education.” Yup, that is true and gasoline was 25 cents a gallon and you could buy a new Chevy II for $2,000.

Politicians hop on the bandwagon by fashioning legislation that restricts the raising of taxes, limits the amount of money that the state contributes to local school districts, and accuses educators of ripping off citizens and not teaching our children properly. They also invent new options for parents, like charter schools, that spend even more money and don’t do well with our children. In Pennsylvania you may now use the word “Billion” to describe the 1.6 billion dollars spent on this failed experiment.

So, if the description of free spending school people is not correct, how can we look at the dollars in a way that most of us can understand? I have always been of the mind that folks don’t seem to cotton to school finance experts speaking in arcane formulas, algorithms, and statistical arabesques. Let’s take a simple look at spending.

The numbers that you will see here are obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. I promise that I did not make them up. Using the latest audited numbers, from 2012-13, the total expenditures for all school districts, charter schools, career centers and intermediate units ( a regional education service agency) was $ 27,619, 398, 175. That’s a whole bunch of billions. However, you can then divide it by the number of students in those institutions. That would be 1,748,355.

When you do that division you get $15,797. So that’s how much it cost to educate a child (on average) in Pennsylvania in the 2012-13. That may tell us some things, but not the whole story. If that number is too much for you, than you might want to stop here.

There are 180 days in a school year. However, that is not how long schools and school districts are in operation. Those are the pupil days. I would be just as fair using 260 some odd days as a work year. I will be conservative and use those school year pupil days. Teachers do work longer than that. If you divide the $15,797 by the number of pupil days, you get $87.76 per day.

I cannot be sure that folks think of that as a high number, low number or a just right number for educating our children, but that is what it was in 2012-13. Now for the final calculation. If you determine that the school day is 7.5 hours, and that is a controversial number. Critics will say that it is too long. Children are not in their seats for that long during the day. Others will say that the day begins when the buses pick up the children. While, still others will say that extracurricular time should also be included, as well as teacher time.

For those reasons, I have moderated the time to 7.5 hours. If you then divide 7.5 into $87.76 you will get $11.70. That is what it cost to educate a student in Pennsylvania in the 2012-2013 school year. I will repeat. It cost $11.70 per hour to educate a child in PA in that year.

I have taken a look at national statistics from time to time. Although the numbers vary from state to state, the answers are pretty much the same. I once calculated what the national hourly rate was. I do not remember the exact number, but it was similar to Pennsylvania’s. My sister challenged me to figure it out for New York City. It was much higher than Pennsylvania, but within a striking distance of PA.

Just for the fun of it, try and calculate it for your own school district. Since you now know the state average, you can do a comparison. I have a feeling that you will be surprised.



  1. It is frustrating to hear pundits gripe about what we as a nation spend on education as though taxpayers are buying something for which they have no use or gain any benefit. That old bumper sticker, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” is so true. Why is that so difficult to understand?

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