The Investicrats

By Larry Sand
June 18, 2019

The great education spending swindle is never-ending for the teachers unions.

Their whine never stops. While I and many others have been writing about the enormous sum of money spent on education for years, the “investicrats,” those who constantly demand that even more must be allocated, show no sign of leaving the building. Perhaps the most deeply entrenched of this genus is one Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

A few weeks ago, the union leader penned “Investing in the schools our children deserve,” an editorial for the New York Times in which she rolls out the usual bushwa. She claims that in 1998, California’s Prop. 13 ushered in an era of “educational austerity.” Weingarten also trots out another golden oldie that education is being starved by politicians who are “deliberately siphoning off funds for privatization” or to “finance tax cuts for corporations and the superrich.”

Not specifically written as a rejoinder, though it well could have been, Mike Antonucci did a terrific job of trolling through “31 years of California funding claims” a few days after Weingarten’s New York Times piece. He points out that California has increased its school funding by 71 percent over the last eight years. But a unionista would never be caught dead acknowledging this very inconvenient fact.

Another bankable investicrat talking point is that “California is XXth in education spending.” For example, California governor Gavin Newsom recently insisted “We’re still 41st in the nation in per pupil funding,” and then promised to spend billions more. However, using numbers from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Pacific Research Institute scholar Lance Izumi maintains that California is 29th, not 41st. At the same time, Los Angeles teacher union boss Alex Caputo-Pearl contends that the state is 44th. Yet, the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that in 2017, California ranked 21st in state education spending. The same report also informs us that L.A. is ranked 7th in per-pupil spending of the nation’s 25 largest school districts (and 11th of the top 50), coming in ahead of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, et al. Newsom and Caputo-Pearl make no mention of these numbers.

If you’re not too dizzy yet, here’s a pop quiz: In 2017, EdSource’s John Fensterwald wrote an enlightening piece in which he asks: How does California rank in K-12 per-pupil spending nationally in the latest studies? a) 46th b) 41st c) 29th d) 22nd.

The answer is: All the above. It depends on the way spending is calculated and how up-to-date the data are.

What about spending on the national level? Randi Weingarten warns us about the high cost of defunding public education and blames Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming that the “disinvestment in public education is hurting kids and hurting educators.” But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we currently spend about $668 billion dollars, which translates to $13,119 per public school student enrolled 2016–2017. That’s an increase of 15 percent (in constant dollars) since 2000-2001. This puts us very near the top when compared to the rest of the world. Currently, we are second, a bit behind Norway.

It’s worth noting that since 2000, U.S. scores on the PISA test, which measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy in 70 countries around the world, have actually declined. Our reading scores went from 504 to 497, and average math scores also fell, from 483 to 470. We are now 31st in math, science and reading, coming in way behind Singapore, Canada, China and even Estonia. I suppose that we can we can collectively puff out our chests that we are doing better than Latvia, Albania and the Dominican Republic, however.

Sadly, the investicrats’ ongoing lament has conned the public into believing that we are starving our classrooms. A 2018 national poll commissioned by Just Facts shows that 57 percent of voters think “public schools spend an average of less than $150,000 per classroom per year.” But the actual figure is $332,000, and this figure doesn’t include “the costs of state government administration, unfunded pension liabilities, and non-pension post-employment benefits like healthcare.”

A bit of good news, however. Just a couple of weeks ago, Los Angeles voters wised up and killed Measure EE, which would have temporarily placated the school board and teachers union by levying a $6 billion parcel tax on homes and businesses across the city. We need to continue this momentum and spread the word that the investicrats’ pitch has no basis in reality. Being a true believer may do wonders for the bureaucrats and union leaders, but your wallet will be considerably lighter, and it won’t help our kids one iota.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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