Issues 2020: America Spends Unprecedented Amounts on its Schoolchildren
Prevailing narratives about low educational spending are misleading
NEW YORK, NY —Rhetoric from candidates vying for the presidential nomination would suggest that America’s K-12 teachers are underpaid and school infrastructure is falling apart. In the latest issue brief in the Manhattan Institute’s Issues 2020 series, senior fellow Max Eden analyzes relevant data on school spending, finding that the reality is far less grim. In fact, the data show that contrary to popular belief, school spending in the U.S. varies across states but is comparable across race and socioeconomic status, not related to achievement, and the highest among major developed nations.
While it is true that K-12 education in America faces challenges, inadequate funding is not to blame. American per-pupil spending on primary and secondary schools has increased for decades, reaching $13,847 per pupil in 2016 (2018 dollars)—triple the figure in 1966. Further, teachers are paid substantially more than their peers in the private sector, and the schools at which they teach are typically in good shape. Less than one in twenty schools is in “poor” condition. Finally, increases in federal and state funding have helped ensure that per-pupil spending is equitable across race and socioeconomic status.
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