Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Per Pupil Costs of Public vrs. Private Schools

Real Clear Policy has a column here advocating different education methods for “faith-based” schools, so they will be in a better position to get vouchers.  He argues that parochial schools do a much better job educating children for much less money, and supports his point by showing how per pupil costs have increased since 1961 for public school children.

You can’t make meaningful comparisons between spending in 1961 and now, or spending between private and public schools without talking about special education costs.  About thirteen percent of public school students receive special education services (National Center for Education Statistics).

I can’t find the source, but I’ve read that all of the increase in per pupil cost has been due to special education.  I do know that some students with severe special needs cost their districts over a hundred thousand dollars a year.  Students with milder disabilities can also be very expensive to educate.  Schools are being flooded with children on the autism spectrum now, and even those on the less severe end can require a designated tutor to accompany them all day so they can manage mainstream classes. 

So I’m not sure what exactly Mr. Kennedy is advocating.  Don’t provide services to these children to keep costs down?  Just forget about them when figuring out cost comparisons?

I’ve taught in both public and parochial schools.  The disabled students I’ve had in my public school classrooms would never have gotten past the admission office of any of the parochial schools I taught in.  And this doesn’t even count all of the students my public school paid for, who were too disabled to be educated in a regular classroom.  We had some who required residential special ed. placements.  You don’t think that’s expensive? 


  1. You are exactly right. Bruce Baker, who writes the great blog schoolfinance101, has told me (via email, after I asked him) that the increase in per-pupil spending (adjusted for inflation) was largely due to an increase in support services (like special ed) and to changing demographics (like maybe more kids in school who wouldn't have been before, more legal mandates to give them a fair shake, as well as more ELL kids). What has not increased since the early seventies is teacher salaries adjusted for inflation. But this is an area that should get a lot more attention. Conservative ed reformers always trot out the graph that shows achievement flat and per-pupil costs way up, but I haven't read a good explanation of that graph. I'd be curious to know, if it is true that special ed costs are driving the increase, whether that increased spending makes a measurable difference somewhere else--like maybe in test scores or life satisfaction for kids in special ed? It's a very interesting issue, and someone should shed some light on it.

    1. I was teaching in Norfolk VA in the 1970's, when the schools were being dragged, kicking and screaming, into compliance with PL 94-142. I had a good friend there whose son was severely learning disabled. She said they spend 80,000 a year on his education. Both she and her husband made good money, but they lived in poverty.

      So I do think the kids get help, but the law is also a godsend for the parents.

      Check this blog out, if you get a chance: http://autismasithappens.blogspot.com/

  2. The real thing to know about private schooling is that, in private school was really trying to give the best programs in their school just to make a competent teaching method on their students.

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