Doubling of Education Spending a Myth?

JUNE 27, 2012 | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

From 1996-97 to 2010-11, Pennsylvania public school spending increased 93.4 percent, according to state Department of Education data.

Yet Rep. James Roebuck says this increase is a "myth".

Roebuck said the state was spending less on teaching students because costs such as busing and infrastructure have increased in the past decade.

"We need to destroy the myth of increased education funding," he said. "And that’s what it is, a myth."

While the data clearly show education funding increases are real, even factoring in inflation and student enrollment, let's look at the categories of spending to ascertain Rep. Roebuck's claims about transportation and infrastructure.

From 1996-97 through 2010-11,

  • Total public school spending increased 93.4 percent
  • Instructional spending increased 86.5 percent
  • Support Services increased 93.4 percent
  • Construction and debt payments increased 141.3 percent
  • Transportation spending (included in "Support Services") increased 100.1 percent
  • For perspective, the Consumer Price Index rose only 38.1 percent, and school enrollment declined by 1.3 percent.

It is true that spending on transportation and construction plus debt has risen faster than instructional costs, but not at a reduction to instructional costs.  As a percentage of total school spending, transportation rose from 4.7 to 4.9 percent, while construction and debt grew from 8.7 to 10.8 percent.

One way to address the growing cost of construction would be to eliminate prevailing wage mandates on school districts, which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, forcing districts to pay more needlessly for the same work.

Regardless, all major categories of school spending grew far above the rate of inflation.

And to put context to this whole debate, Rep. Roebuck was objecting to legislation to increase Pennsylvania's Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $125 million, a program with a decade of success.

How much is that $125 million increase?  It is less than school districts spend in one day.

Moreover, each scholarship the EITC provides saves taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Increased education spending is no myth: Public school spending has doubled in 15 years.  In contrast, opportunity scholarships educate students for a lower cost. These are facts Rep. Roebuck and all lawmakers should recognize.



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