The Atlantic published an article earlier this month comparing U.S.’s moribund healthcare system to its education system, providing several facts that would probably surprise the average American.
- “In education, just as in health care, the United States turns out to have the highest cost system in the developed world, on a cost-per-client basis, save only for Luxembourg.”
- For all this spending, our returns are at best mediocre when compared to other highly developed nations. This is true even of the school districts we think are our best—such as wealthy suburban public schools that spend as much as $20,000-$25,000 per student (enough for them to go to a prestigious “Asbury Country Day School” or the like).
- “”Health care and education together account for about 24 percent of the American domestic economy.” One-quarter of our economy is consumed by education and healthcare, which are highly government subsidized and regulated and the only sectors (besides government itself) predicted to grow in the near future.
- “[T]he United States spends 63 percent more than other countries spend to educate and care for its citizens. As a result, the United States has taxed itself a whopping 63 percent more than necessary to have a profile of subpar performance. Put another way, if our health and education systems were as efficient as those of the average OECD country, we would save $1.4 trillion per year and, if they were as effective as those of the average OECD country, we would experience a very large improvement in education and health outcomes at the same time” (italics mine).
What should a normal person think when confronted with just a few of the many such astounding statistics? The first thing to know, which usually provokes a little astonishment and outrage, is that average K-12 per-pupil public school spending in the U.S. is $13,000. That baseline figure is actually rather low (perhaps even half the true cost) because it doesn’t include infrastructure spending like new buildings, debt payments, and employee benefits.
The second thing to know is that, even factoring in the budget cuts since the recession, school spending is at an all-time high (in inflation-adjusted dollars). At the same time, as The Atlantic article points out, U.S. students are not demonstrating they know more on average and are actually slipping when compared internationally.
The Atlantic article’s author, Marc Tucker, paints this as a moral problem because middle-class and rich folks, as with healthcare, have ways out. They can pay for expensive insurance, healthcare treatments, tutoring, and tony private schools. They can move zip codes to attend a mediocre-but-better-than-urban public school paid for with higher property taxes. Poor people can do none of these things and, as a consequence, are stuck in abysmal, self-perpetuating, generational poverty, both of pocket and soul.
Education is intertwined with the economy and our national character. Its oft-overlooked decline in this country has contributed, like healthcare, to a broken economy and our decaying culture. This, too, needs comprehensive and individual-driven reform.
Image by Judy Baxter.