October 29, 2013 12:30PM

Survey Says: Public Wants to Know the Total Per Pupil Cost of Public Schooling

A new public opinion survey commssioned in Rhode Island by the Friedman Foundation reveals that people want to know the honest-to-goodness total per-pupil cost of public schooling.

Unfortunately, the full cost is regularly omitted from state education department websites, as revealed in a recent Cato study by Jason Bedrick. What's more, the full figure is seldom reported by the media. Instead, newspapers and local TV news outfits usually report just a portion of the cost that excludes things like construction spending, interest on debt, and pensions. Education officials obviously have an incentive to make their operations look as frugal as possible, so it's no surprise that they would offer reporters these partial spending figures (known as "operating" or "current" spending).

But most journalists feel some obligation to be honest with their readers—to tell them what they want and need to know. Until now, reporters might have assumed that the public didn't really want to know the full, total per-pupil-spending numbers. We now know that's not true. The public opinion survey data show that people want to be told the total cost of public schooling, not some fraction of that cost—by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent. Nor is this a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats were of like mind on this question. So were conservatives and liberals.

The people want to know. Will the media now step up and tell them?