Our guest author today is Mark Weber, Special Analyst for Education Policy at the New Jersey Policy Perspective and a lecturer in education policy at Rutgers University.
The issue of how much the U.S. spends on K-12 public schools rightfully receives a lot of attention. More often than not, these discussions rely on simple data, such as average per-pupil spending over time across the entire nation. I would argue that the variation in spending, both within and between states, is so enormous as to render national comparisons potentially misleading, and also that the more consequential question is not just how much states and districts spend, but whether their spending levels are commensurate with their costs.
That said, overall spending trends are clearly important, and so let’s take a quick look at how much K-12 spending has increased in the U.S. over the past 25-30 years, using data from the School Finance Indicators Database (SFID). The SFID is an important resource for those who study and write about school finance, and so our brief examination of the spending trend also provides an opportunity for transparency: the stakeholders, policymakers, and journalists who rely on our work should know more about how we collect and prepare the data we use. “How much does the U.S. spend on schools?” may seem like a simple question, but proper measurement tends to complicate things.