August 1, 2006

The $13,000 Question

While researching yesterday's post, I discovered (to my amazement) that the Philadelphia School System wastes spends about $13,000 per student for education. This is about 13% higher than the state average expenditures for school districts in Pennsylvania. So much for the underfunded schools meme.

As a point of comparison, the tuition for attending a Catholic high school in Philadelphia will be only $4,380 for the 2006-2007 school year. Not exactly a princely sum even if you include the inevitable subsidies the Archdiocese gives to their schools. And, I'm sure the hallways in the catholic schools don't reek of urine as they do in many of the public schools.

Let's see where the Philadelphia School System spends all this money (from School Matters for 2004-2005).

Total Expenditures were $12,761. This is the number I used; but, when most education commentators write about school expenses they use Operating Expenditures, which for the Philadelphia School System were $8,551. Using Operating Expenditures, instead of Total Expenditures, makes it appear that the cost of public education is cheaper than it really is; in Philadelphia School System's case it undervalues the cost to taxpayers by a third. Quite a neat trick.

Total Expenditures includes such thing as capital expenditures (buildings and equipment), interest payments, and payments to outside schools (usually for education special education students with real handicaps--as opposed to the phony school-caused "specific learning disabilities"). These are, of course, real expenses that need to be paid. If you don't believe me, try not paying your mortgage for a few months and see upset your bank becomes.

Next we have Instructional Expenditures at $4,779 which is only about 56% of Operating Expenses (37% of Total Expenditures). The rest of the Operating Expenses go to transporting and feeding the kids, utility expenses, and maintaining the bloated bureaucracy.

For every dollar out of the taxpayer's pocket, only 37 cents makes it to instruction.

This is fiscal mismanagement on a grand scale. You hear a lot about the military's $600 toilet seats from the press, not as much about the $13,000 educations in which less than a third of the students (who didn't drop out) actually learned. At least the toilet seat accomplished its intended function.


Superdestroyer said...

I think you cheery picked the costs.

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in villanova costs over $13000 just for tuition.

KDeRosa said...

Hi superdestroyer

Villanova is not in Philadelphia and not controlled by the Phialdelphia Archdiocese. Rather, it is in one of the most wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia. As such, it can charge whatever the market will bear. And, that market can bear quite a lot. Most of your better private schools in that area are charging at least $13,000 nowadays.

Villanova is served by the Radnor School District (one of the best in PA) which cost $16,277 back in 2004. So, Academy of Notre Dame de Namur is still a bargain in comparison.

allen said...

Somewhere there's got to be a study that correlates the per student spending with district size.

My guess is that the relationship is positive which puts the lie to the oft repeated virtue of big districts: economies of scale.

Michele at AFT said...

As a former Catholic school teacher, I can tell you that Catholic schools do not provide services to students with learning disabilities (and yes, we did have students with learning disabilities). They get those services for free from the public school district.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Michele.

I remember the trailers (the polite fiction that circumvented the ridiculous separation of church and state "rules") provided for special education services.

Ok, let's see how much extra these services would be.

Using the (somewhat dated) 2002 data (but the best I could find) from PA's Your Schools Your Money (Sorry no direct link to the data, you have to run the search manually). Let's assume the disability rate is the same 12% as the Philly School District's rate and the services are provided as inefficiently as the Philly School provides them, i.e., $5902 per special ed student. This translates to an increased expense of about $708 per student (not just special ed student). Let's call it $1000 per student to account for inflation.

Even with this extra expense, the Philly catholic schools still provide total education services for less than half the cost that the Philly school system does.

Michele at AFT said...


I don't Catholic schools provide services to students who don't speak English. These services can also be quite expensive.

allen said...

That assumes that the "service" is both necessary and a proper use of public education funds.

Also, the price of this service is not necessarily associated with its cost, evidence the next posting in the blog titled "Socialized Education Vs. Capitalism".

What a school district does poorly and expensively isn't necessarily difficult to do or expensive.

KDeRosa said...

Michelle, catholic schools have been around for a long time and have weathered the influx of many non-English speaking immigrant groups while providing education services to them. I would think the most cost-effective way to provide these services would be to teach the students English quickly and well. teaching students in their native language is not necessarily the best way to accomplish this goal, though it certainly is an expensive way to teach.

Catherine Johnson said...

Not exactly a princely sum even if you include the inevitable subsidies the Archdiocese gives to their schools.

Are the schools subsidized?

My best friend's Catholic School had to subsidize the church, not vice versa.

Catherine Johnson said...

My guess is that the relationship is positive which puts the lie to the oft repeated virtue of big districts: economies of scale.

oh, gosh

I'm pretty sure that research exists....but I can't remember who did it at the moment.

I do recall a researcher-policy type saying specifically that the notion of saving money by creating larger districts had not panned out...

Catherine Johnson said...

The research I'm thinking of is probably [[][Hoxby]]'s.

Catherine Johnson said...

oops - sorry

I used ktm mark-up

Caroline Minter Hoxby—Getting the most out of education data