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Americans now spend $11,800 per student, per year to educate our upcoming generation. That’s a lot of money. It is one-third of the yearly average take-home pay of an American worker.

Start a private school, hire a teacher for every 25 students at the average national salary, hire a staff, rent your building, pay utilities and taxes, and you would still make a profit of about $600,000 a year, and that is with only 100 students. Two hundred students will make you a millionaire.

The cost per student is actually significantly higher. A Harvard study showed the public tends to underestimate the amount spent on education, and when given the true figures, the willingness to vote for school spending drops dramatically.

In West Virginia, teachers recently went on strike. Their salaries are declining relative to inflation while their insurance premiums increase. At the same time, while student enrollment has been dropping by more than 2,000 students per year, the state has increased employment of nonteaching staff by 2,500.

In Georgia, a report found while teachers were making less, adjusted for inflation, the school system had continued to hire nonteachers at a rate significantly higher than student enrollment.

Iowa has gone from little white schoolhouses to districts with entire buildings full of employees who teach no one at all.

So how much actual education do we get for $11,800 per student? Not much. For example. In New York state, it costs $21,600 per student per year, while Idaho spends $6,500 per student. So New York spends 3.3 times more per student than Idaho. What do they get for that? They get a 9 percent increase in average ACT scores and an increase in SAT scores too small to notice.

The reason for this is simplicity itself. There is practically no relationship (beyond a minimal level) between what is spent on education and what students learn.

In fact, most educational bureaucrats refuse to even define learning.

Modern education is all about process. The only outcomes worth noting are outcomes that increase process. The student evaluation of teaching can serve as an example. It is a process to measure teachers, not students. Research has found no relationship between the scores on the evaluations and what students are learning. So why give the evaluations? Because the process demands it, even though it results in nothing real, if we define “real” as the reasons the children are in school to begin with.

Consequently, the process of education continues to grow faster than student numbers, and much faster than anything students might actually learn, while demanding more and more money.

Many taxpayers continue to believe they are sacrificing for the good of the children and the future of our nation. Currently, they are instead paying for more and more jobs created to manage the process, more people to handle the paperwork and more employees to meet the ever-increasing demands of special interest groups and politicians.

Some of these might even visit a classroom, if they could just remember where one was.

Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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