Topic: Education and Child Policy

Show Me the (Education) Money, Tar Heel Edition!

North Carolina is becoming the latest hot spot in the education funding wildfire—thousands of protesting teachers are expected in Raleigh on Wednesday—so before I deliver the promised wrap up on my state spending series, I thought I’d add NC to the mix.

As you can see on the following chart, North Carolina’s total spending per-pupil, which includes both operational and capital costs, fell appreciably between the 1999-00 school year, the earliest with readily available federal data, and 14-15. It dropped from inflation-adjusted $10,397 to $8,986, a roughly 14 percent decline. Like other states already profiled, spending peaked right before the recession, but unlike hot-spot states Colorado, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, it never recovered to eventually exceed the beginning of the period. It basically kept dropping until the last year in the period.

Where have the biggest changes been? Breaking the spending down in the chart below, the state has generally kept instructional spending pretty steady, ending only 3 percent lower in 14-15 than 99-00. The big drops were in capital outlays and interest on school debt. The latter disappeared almost entirely, and the former dropped 71 percent, from $1,549 to $448. Like other hot-spot states, North Carolina saw increases in various support categories, with the biggest percentage increase in “other support,” which grew 50 percent.

So there’s your North Carolina snapshot. Coming next: Our final installment looking at some of the possible reasons for these changes.

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part III!

With “Red for Ed” walkouts continuing in Arizona, and ongoing discussion about how well public K-12 schooling has been funded nationwide, here’s part three of our impromptu series on spending. As promised last week, this post presents the total spending charts for the five states that have been most in the news over funding: Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Please see the previous posts for discussions of national spending levels and data sources. The data here are total, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil expenditures on public elementary and secondary schools.

Arizona

Things are looking down in AZ, though with a similar pattern to the nation overall: Spending generally rising before the Great Recession—total expenditures peaked in 07-08 at $11,141—then dropping afterwards. Unlike much of the nation, however, for the entire period total spending in Arizona fell, from $9,837 per pupil to $8,697. And it has a somewhat pronounced spending valley before the recession.

Where were the cuts? While all of the various types of support services saw increases for the overall period—and some saw increases even after the recession—instructional spending, which most people would probably consider the nucleus of what schools do, fell 6 percent for the full period, or $281 per student. The biggest loser was capital outlays, which dropped 58 percent for the period, or by nearly $1,300.

Colorado

Again we see the pattern of overall spending peaking in 07-08, then falling. We also see a loss from the beginning of the period to the end. But Colorado’s decline is much smaller than in AZ; only $86, or a less-than 1 percent dip.

For the overall period, only two sub-categories of spending saw cuts: capital outlays, which dropped 34 percent, and other support services, which fell about 22 percent. Instructional spending rose by roughly 2 percent and even after the recession fell only 14 percent.

Show Me the (Education) Money, Part II!

Last week I put up a post with charts showing total, per-pupil, public school spending between the 1999-00 and 2014-15 school years, as well as breaking out spending for a handful of states facing notable education unrest. Due to popular demand—if that’s what you call very mild comments from a few people on Twitter and Facebook—this post is going to break that spending into numerous subcategories used by the federal government in the tables that formed the bases for most of the charts. This post will only look at aggregate national data, but next week I’ll break down spending for those embattled states.

 

Looking at this inflation-adjusted chart, you can get a sense for how big numerous components of spending are relative to each other, and how they have moved over the 15-period. I won’t define all the categories—indeed, the federal definitions themselves are not entirely clear—but the two biggest ones that people are most likely to be interested in are “instruction,” which includes really important things like teacher and principal pay, and “capital outlay,” which covers costs for things such as acquiring property and new buildings. Also important are “student support services” and “other support services,” which include compensation for people like guidance counselors and speech pathologists, and costs for business support services.

Overall we see the same trend as previously: spending up between 99-00 and 07-08, down between 07-08 and 12-13, then trending back up. Just eyeballing the chart it appears that the one area that saw a very meaningful dip over the period was capital outlay.

Is it? Crunching the numbers between 99-00 and 14-15, it seems to be. Only two categories of spending saw drops for the entire period: the very tiny “enterprise operations”—basically, funding from selling things—and capital outlays. Enterprise operations dropped 2 bucks per student, or about 9 percent, while capital outlay fell by $314, or almost 24 percent. In contrast, instructional spending rose by $876, or approaching 15 percent.

Between the pre-Great Recession, 07-08 spike, and 14-15, numerous categories saw drops, with the biggest dip in both dollar and percentage terms coming to capital outlays: $540 and 35 percent. Instructional spending fell only a modest 4 percent, or by $286. Meanwhile, “student support services,” “other support services,” and “food services” actually experienced increases. For the entire 15-year period, student and other support services saw the biggest increases in percentage terms, both growing by about a third.

What does this mean? At least in the aggregate, public schools did not cut spending for the overall period, but did during the recession and its aftermath. But it was in buildings and other property where the most serious cutting occurred both overall and post-Recession, with instructional outlays growing overall and various supports receiving increases even in the worst of times.

Of course, the aggregate does not apply to any given state, where the locus of education authority is held. See you next week for a look at some of those guys.

Show Me the (Education) Money!

With teacher strikes and demonstrations in several states tied not just to teacher compensation, but also the belief that public schooling has been starved for resources, it is worth looking at the spending data. Not trying to say what “fair” teacher pay is, or the degree to which spending may affect test scores; just seeing what we’ve been spending, and how it has changed over the years.

Let’s start with relatively recent history, the only span of years for which the federal government has readily available, total per-pupil spending data for public K-12 schools at the state level. (These data were assembled by pulling from the version of this table for every year and adjusting for inflation.) We want to look at total spending because taxpayers don’t just spend money for operating costs such as teacher salaries, but also on things like new school buildings, expenditures only included in total cost tabulations.

Look at the colorful figure below—every state is a line—and you will see that inflation-adjusted spending generally went up, on average (the bold, black line) from $11,132 in 99-00 to $13,187 in the 2014-15 school year, an 18 percent real increase. Of course, as you can see, there are some states that spent a lot more at the outset—and boosted spending much more over time—than others.

More Progress On Restraining Government By Dear-Colleague Letter

Agencies use informal guidance documents in lieu of formal regulation to clarify and interpret uncertainties in existing law and enforcement. While there are many legitimate reasons they might want to do that, such forms of subregulatory guidance or “stealth regulation” can also offer a tempting way to extend an agency’s power and authority into new areas, or ban private actions that hadn’t been banned before – all without going through the notice and comment process required by regulation, with its protections for regulated parties.

Fair? Lawful? The Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has lately sought to bring agency use of guidance documents under better control, and in particular end the use of documents that 1) are obsolete, 2) improperly use the process to circumvent the need for formal regulation, or 3) improperly go beyond what is provided for in existing legal authority. Shortly after I covered this issue in December, Sessions revoked 25 guidance documents on such grounds. Caleb Brown interviewed me about all this for a Cato Daily Podcast last week.

Earlier, I covered “rule by Dear Colleague Letter” (as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called it) in posts on the regulation of universities during the Obama and Trump eras. Scott Shackford at Reason points out that the rescission of an earlier DoJ guidance letter on overbearing local government use of fines and fees should be read not as blessing those practices as okay, but as reflecting the likelihood that the federal government lacks clear statutory or constitutional authority to intervene against them. (adapted from Overlawyered). 

Are Shootings More Likely to Occur in Public Schools?

The Parkland shooting, even almost two months later, remains a very painful topic, and there seem to have been many very important factors at play. One that hasn’t been discussed very much, but probably needs to be examined, is whether the kind of schools students attend makes a difference. At least one author, Stella Morabito at The Federalist, has discussed this, and has identified many problems that she thinks are associated with public schools ranging from their large sizes to their seeming hostility to Christianity.

All of the problems she discusses may be factors—school size has been suspect for a long time—but as a starting point we ought to look at the numbers.

Hyewon Kim—a Cato Center for Educational Freedom Intern—compiled information on school shootings in the United States from 2000 to 2018 using the Tribune-Review database. The database is limited to legitimate school shootings; that is, shootings that occurred on or near a K-12 school campus while classes were in session or when students were present. The list also excluded suicide-only incidents.

Hyewon found 134 school shootings from 2000 to 2018. Only eight of these occurred in private schools while 122 occurred in public schools. The type of school could not be definitively classified for 4 of the shootings. As shown in the figure below, about 94 percent of the shootings that could be classified occurred in public schools while only about 6 percent occurred in private schools.

 

Since there are many more public schools than private schools, we must consider that difference. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that around 25 percent of U.S. K-12 schools are private, while about 10 percent of schooled children attend private schools. In other words, the data suggest that children that go to private schools are disproportionately less likely to experience a school shooting than children in public schools.

Of course, considering the difference in the number of students across the two sectors does not account for differences in the types of students. After all, at least some of the divergence in school shootings found are likely due to other factors such as household income and parent education levels.

However, a recent study by Danish Shakeel and me, presented at the International School Choice and Reform Conference, finds that private schools experience better school culture than public schools even after controlling for several characteristics such as school size, location, racial composition of students and teachers, and the percent of students from low-income families. We find that private schools are significantly less likely than public schools to experience problems such as student fighting, bullying, and, perhaps most importantly, weapon possession.

Anytime you write about a tragedy and point to your favorite policy reform as the solution, it can seem opportunistic and, frankly, a little callous. But it is not groundless to think that school type could matter, and nothing should be off-limits for discussion to end these sorts of tragedies.