Public-School Excuse #1 — Give Us More Money!

By: Joel Turtel

If more money meant better education for our kids, our public schools should have vastly improved over the last 75 years. Yet the reverse is true. In dollars adjusted for inflation, public schools spent about $876 per year for elementary and secondary school students in 1930, when student literacy rates were close to 90 percent. In contrast, in 2003 public schools spent about $7500 per student, while literacy rates fell to the 50-70 percent level in many public schools.

In the year 2000, the five states whose students got the highest SAT scores were North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Yet, per-pupil spending in North Dakota ranked forty-first among the states, in Iowa twenty-fifth, Wisconsin tenth, Minnesota sixteenth, and South Dakota a lowly forty-eighth.

In contrast, the District of Columbia had the fourth highest per-student spending of all the states but ranked almost at the bottom of the list (50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia) in student achievement. Clearly, there is little correlation between money spent per student and student achievement.

A 1990 Rand Corporation study showed that private Catholic schools do a better job educating children than public schools. The study compared thirteen New York City public, private, and Catholic high schools that had many minority students.

Yet, the average annual tuition costs for Catholic and Protestant-affiliated schools for the 2002-2003 school year were approximately $3500-$4000 per elementary-school pupil and $5500-$6000 per Secondary school pupil. The average public-school cost per pupil was approximately $7500. Catholic and Protestant-affiliated schools therefore give their students a better education for less money than public schools spend.

When we compare the academic record of home-schooled vs. public-school students, the cost vs. achievement differences are even more startling. In 1998, the Home School Legal Defense Association commissioned Larry Rudner, statistician and measurement expert at the University of Maryland, to do a study on the academic achievement levels of home-schooled students. The study tested 20,000 home-schooled students on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).

The study found that home-schooled students did extremely well on the test compared to public school students. Home-schooled kids scored in the 75th to 85th percentile range, compared with the 50th percentile national average for public-school students across the country.

The study also found that in every subject and grade level of the ITBS battery of tests, home-schooled students scored significantly higher than public and private school students. On average, homeschool students in the first to fourth grades performed one grade level higher than comparable public and private school students. By the fifth grade, the gap began to widen, and by the eighth grade, the average home-schooled student performed four grade levels above the national average.

Home-schooling parents not only give their kids a superior education, but spend far less than public schools. For example, some excellent phonics reading programs cost less than $150. Even if we assumed that an average homeschooling parent spent about $1500 a year on learn-to-read or learn-math books, computer learning software, and other learning materials, that is about one-quarter the average $7500-a-year that public schools spend per student. Clearly, once again, it is obvious that more money does not guarantee a better education.

Pubic-school authorities’ constantly repeated excuse that lack of money causes poor education in public schools, therefore does not hold water.

Joel Turtel is the author of “Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie To Parents and Betray Our Children.” Website:, Email:, Phone: 718-447-7348.

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