• Education establishment apologists use pre-recession highs for comparisons to claim K-12 is underfunded
• But they purposefully ignore long-term trends in order to mislead
• Even after adjusting for inflation, per pupil spending nearly doubled in the 25 years leading up to the 2008-09 recession
Anyone paying attention to debates about K-12 education funding in North Carolina will likely detect a trend coming from apologists for the education establishment.
“For the 2016-17 school year, state funding per student remains 8.1 percent below 2008 pre-recession level,” declares the far-left NC Policy Watch. The Higher Education Works Foundation likewise chimes in with “An analysis … found that after adjusting for inflation, state expenditures still haven’t recovered to pre-recession levels” in K-12 per pupil spending.
And of course, the Raleigh News & Observer joins the choir: “per-pupil funding in inflation-adjusted dollars has not returned to its pre-recession level. In 2008-09, it was $6,237. Today, it is $5,616.”
If the Left does one thing well, it is read from the same script. But why the emphasis on using “pre-recession levels” as the baseline for per pupil spending comparisons?
The reason is simple: FY 2008-09 represented an all-time high in per pupil, inflation-adjusted state funding for K-12 education in North Carolina.
Does anyone else find it somewhat intellectually dishonest and misleading that none of these analyses using “pre-recession levels” of funding say word one about the spending trends that preceded that high-water mark of spending?
The purpose of the chart below is to provide the data that the Left doesn’t want you to know about education spending in North Carolina.[i]
Following are the key takeaways from the data:
· Even after adjusting for inflation, per pupil spending nearly doubled in the 25 years leading up to the 2008-09 recession
· In constant 2016 dollars, per pupil spending in FY 1983-84 was $3,337. In FY 2008-09 it had climbed to $6,308
· Nominal spending per pupil (i.e. not adjusted for inflation) rose from $1,445 to $5,703, meaning actual per pupil spending was nearly four times as high in 2008-09 as it was 25 years earlier
· During the same time, cumulative inflation was 131 percent, meaning that per pupil spending grew at nearly twice the rate of inflation during this time
The sharpest rise in per pupil spending occurred in the seven years between FY 1983-84 to FY 1990-91, in which per pupil spending – adjusted for inflation – exploded by a whopping 59 percent.
Naturally, spending fluctuated along with the economy’s growth and recessions. But the overall trend is indisputable: the “pre-recession level” of 2008-09 marked a decades-long unsustainable run-up of K-12 education spending.
It is simply disingenuous to focus exclusively on comparing current spending levels to the heights reached in 2008-09 without mentioning the massive increases in spending that preceded that year.
The education establishment’s narrative that the state is “underfunding” K-12 education is a power grab and a myth. The data presented in this article exposes the latest misleading tactic they are using to lobby for more taxpayer dollars, and thus more control.
The truth is this: Throwing more money at the status quo education establishment is not the answer. There is ample evidence disproving the link between more money and higher results. The establishment focuses on empowering itself, rather than focusing on students. Breaking the government’s near monopoly and shifting more power to parents and students is both the right thing to do and also what is needed to improve outcomes.
[i] Per pupil spending for years prior to 2007-08 from Department of Public Instruction, Statistical Profile, archives.
Per pupil spending for years 2007-08 thru 2015-16 from: Department of Public Instruction, Statistical Profile, State Summary, Table 23
Inflation adjustments from: http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/