Paying for What?

Americans like education improvement in theory; they just don’t want to pay more money for it. This sounds hypocritical but it might actually make sense. According to an Associated Press article by Eric Gorski and Alan Fram:

Eighty-eight percent say a country’s education system has a major effect on its economic health. Nearly as many — 79 percent — say the U.S. economy would improve if all Americans had at least a two-year college degree, according to an Associated Press-Stanford University poll.

Yet when it comes to financing public school improvements, people tilt slightly against raising taxes to do so, with 47 percent opposing and 42 percent in support. The findings underscore the tensions confronting federal and local officials across the country balancing the competing pressures of strengthening education while not overburdening taxpayers at a time of economic weakness and huge federal and state budget deficits.

But these things are not necessarily in conflict. In fact, the United States already spends quite lavishly on education. United States public expenditure per student is actually higher than in most other developed countries.

In 2006 the United States spent $10,267 per public school student, which was 41 percent higher than other developed countries, which spent an average $7,283. In terms of higher education, the American average per student was $25,109, that’s more than twice the average expenditure for comparable countries, which spent about $12,336.

So we’re already spending plenty of money, it’s just that our outcomes are worse. The United States ranks 18th among 36 developed nations in terms of college degree attainment.

So the people of the United States think a country’s education system has a major effect on its economic health. They’re right. It does.

And the majority of Americans think they shouldn’t have to pay more money to support education. It’s looks like they’re right there as well. Where is all of this money going?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer