Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Education - Where does all the money go?

I've spent part of the summer watching our idiot legislature in California fail to balance the budget for the nth time, and I always wonder - with all of the resources they have, how on Earth can they fail at such a relatively simple task? I decided to tackle the largest state expenditure: K-12 education (just under 30% of the state budget). We spend a ton of money on this, and the results are abysmal.

Now, since I'm looking to solve problems rather than perpetuate the existing state of epic failure, I'm going to use a zero-based budget. Starting from scratch. We'll start off with the basic facts:

In 2007-8 (the last years I could find data for), there were 6,275,469 students enrolled in K-12 education in California. There were 295,222.7 "Full-Time Equivalent Teachers" teaching them, for an average of about 21.5 students per teacher. Since I like nice, round numbers and small class sizes I'm going to go for 20 students per teacher, which will give us 313,773 Full-Time Equivalent Teachers (hereinafter referred to as Teachers). I only want the best teachers, so we'll compensate them at $75,000 per year each - this works out to $60,000 in salary, $9,000 in health benefits, and $6,000 in retirement / pension contributions. All very generous numbers, which will hopefully keep the teachers on my side through the rest of this. We're also going to assume each student has 7 classes per year (yes, I know there are single semester classes; I'm assuming it all evens out), which works out to $3,750 in teacher compensation per student per year (PSPY).

Of course, students need textbooks. Since I'm generous, I want the best textbooks for my students and I want new ones every year. Let's call it $100 per book per student, times seven classes per year - $700 PSPY.

Students need more than just textbooks: chalk, lab equipment, computers, art supplies, athletic gear, sets for the school play, etc. Let's call it another $100 per student per class- $700 PSPY or $14,000 per classroom per year (at this point the teachers are probably giggling, crying, or some combination of the two).

Let's see. We need a place for students to learn. I want really nice buildings, so I'm going to budget $4 a foot (you can get some of the nicest possible "Class A" office space at this rate in most cities), and 100 sq. ft. per student - plenty of classroom space, plus bathrooms, lockers, cafeteria, gym, etc. This works out to $400 PSPY. We'll throw in another $50 PSPY ($7,000 per classroom) for new desks and other furniture.

Kids need food. Lots of it. Let's say a Whole Foods Pizza each, plus a drink and some fruit. Nice, healthy, nutritious lunch for $10/ head times 180 school days - this works out to a whopping $1,800 PSPY.

Schools don't just run themselves. They need administrators (principals, superintendents, and whatnot), clerical and other skilled workers (secretaries, school nurses, etc.), and service personnel (janitors, kitchen staff, maintenance workers, etc.). We'll figure one administrator at $100,000 and one clerical / skilled worker at $50,000 for every 300 students, and one service person at $35,000 for every 100 students (kids are messy). This works out to $850 PSPY for "support staff."

I'm probably forgetting tons of other stuff, so figure another $500 PSPY (or an average of $35,000 per classroom) for the always-important "Miscellaneous" (keep in mind that if you rent office space at $4 / ft, building maintenance would be included).

This is far from what our reality is. This is pretty much a budget for "dream schools" - schools that should exist in a perfect world. But add it up. My schools cost $8,050 per student per year, for a total of $50,517,525,450 - and most of my costs don't assume any sort of quantity discounts. California's budget for 2009-2010 for K-12 education in dilapidated buildings with ancient equipment, obsolete textbooks, food that's unsuitable for pigs, and supplies purchased by teachers who are paid an average of $45,000 per year - after horrendous, heartless, painful cuts by the evil Governor - is $59,637,256,000. $9,503.23 per kid, 15.3% more than what perfect schools should cost.

So what I want to know is - where does all the freaking money go?


  1. This is classic. I wonder how it compares to the actual budget the school systems propose. Also, is there any additional funding they receive from the federal government?

  2. @George - The $59,637,256,000 K-12 budget figure includes money from the Federal Government. As far as I can determine, this is the official "total budget" number.

  3. Excellent

    My kids go to school in Cupertino, CA, one of the best school districts in CA. For arcane reasons Cupertino only gets $5500 per student and has one of the highest cost-of-living in the state. With this budget crisis I would assume legislators would be beating down the door to find out how they can save money, but no. If there are cuts, I would assume Cupertino would not get cut as we are already very "efficient", but no, everyone gets cut the same percentage.

  4. Hmm, a few more things maybe. Bussing, ADA stuff, counselers, special ed, insurance, etc. These might fit your misc budget however.

  5. ERS, your post reminds me very much of this classic article from one of your State Senators:

    His was slightly funnier, but you both make the same point very well.

  6. Your $4/sq ft seems way off. Per month maybe? Also, busing is very expensive, especially the way we do it these days, stopping every block and having special, low capacity buses for the special needs kids.