Don’t know much about history

Don’t know much biology

Don’t know much about science books

Don’t know much about the French I took

“Don’t Know Much” by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Tom Snow

Education Next recently released its annual poll full of interesting information, including this graphic that shows Americans consistently underestimate the amount of money spent on public education in their state.

The upshot

The public is providing almost twice as much money per pupil as the average respondent estimates.

Why this is important

Results like these don’t mean we should spend less on public education. In fact, there are plenty of people who, when confronted with actual spending information, still want to spend more on K-12 education.

The results, should, however, compel us to take a moment to sympathize with the plight of the state lawmaker.

States don’t have a money printing press and generally deal with state constitutions that require expenditures to match revenues. The demand for expenditures always exceeds the supply of revenues, and the public’s demands are not, alas, consistently well informed.

Interestingly, the low-ball estimates for public school spending would be far more accurate if they were a guess as to state per-pupil spending on charter school students. These estimates would be higher than the average per-pupil funding received by students in private choice programs.

Where we should go from here

Pollsters frequently will produce polls that find “X percent of the public support increased funding for Y policy priority.” That’s all well and good, but if you are a lawmaker charged with the responsibility of passing a budget, you have no choice but to establish relative priorities – health care vs. higher education vs. transportation vs. K-12 education – and lots of other things within the context of available revenue.

So, the next time you talk to a state lawmaker, try thanking him or her for doing a difficult job before you complain about how he or she is doing it.

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