Americans Underestimate What Public Schools Spend Per Student

The Department of Education recently reported that public schools spent on average more than $15,000 per student as of 2019. But Americans continue to estimate that public schools spend much less. 

A May survey commissioned by EdChoice found that Americans think public schools are spending roughly $5,000 per child. Colyn Ritter has the details

Parents and non-parents estimate that public schools are spending around $5,000 per-student annually. …

Without the actual amount supplied to them, more than half of all adults believe that per-student spending in public schools is too low. However, when shown the average expenditure per-student, the percentage of adults who believe spending per-student is too low drops to 34 percent.

Showing American parents and the public what public schools are spending per student is needed to inform ongoing efforts to improve K-12 education. That’s the goal of Project Nickel, a website created by Lincoln Network in partnership with EdChoice. Using Congressionally mandated data showing per-student spending by public school, Project Nickel allows users to search by school to see what is spent per student. 

“Education spending has historically been a black box and led to parents not having the knowledge of school spending data that is necessary to hold policy makers accountable,” explained Head of Studio Brandon Detweiler. “Lincoln Studio is really proud of how Project Nickel (a tool that we built) has proven incredibly effective at empowering parents, journalists, and school choice advocates to do just that.”

This transparency is needed now more than ever. As I wrote in The Hill for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity earlier this month, evidence continues to show that years of disrupted public schooling during the pandemic have harmed American children’s educational and social development: 

The Department of Education released survey data showing widespread concerns about public schools’ academic performance and alarming increases in the number of students’ seeking mental health services. Eighty-two percent of parents and 89 percent of staff are concerned that public schools are not meeting students’ academic needs. An alarming 70 percent of public schools reported that more students are seeking mental health services than before the pandemic.

More than half of all states now have publicly funded education choice programs. In 2021, at least 600,000 children used education savings accounts, vouchers, or tax credit-funded scholarships to choose alternative learning environments, according to EdChoice. More children could benefit if state lawmakers gave parents more choices.

Project Nickel will help parents see just how much the government is spending on their children’s public education. Learning that the average school spends more than $15,000 per student should cause them to ask whether they could use those funds to give their children a better education, and to support legislative efforts to give them that power.

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