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Setting Money on Fire (For the Children!)

Today I got the chance to talk briefly about our county school system’s budget issues on the radio. I’ve already had a couple of people privately question my numbers, so I wanted to make sure the math was publicly available.

This is a screenshot from the Shelby County Board of Education website. It’s the 2014-2015 Budget, as you can see up top.  Notice that the total expenditures are over $243 million.



Next, here is a screen shot from the SCBoE’s website, listing the number of students served by the county system:

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 8.51.33 AM








At this point, the math becomes fairly straightforward:  $243,074,750.07 divided by 22,783 students =


In contrast, the average tuition for grades 1-12 at Briarwood, a local private school that has a decades-long track record of academic excellence:  $6,490.

Average tuition in grades K-12 at St. James, the Montgomery educational enclave that is widely regarded as one of the most elite schools in Alabama:  $9357.50

It’s not just that public schools are, on average, actually more expensive than private schools–yet somehow no one knows it.

It’s that public schools–typically considered to be institutionally  troubled (at best) or failing completely (at worst)–are somehow still more expensive than the absolute best, most elite, academically overperforming institutions that the private sector has to offer.

The average tuition of a more typical private school in our county, easily verified by five minutes on Google, is closer to $5,000.

To sum up:  for the amount we are spending in public schools, we could do any of the following things:

1)  Send every single kid in the county to an elite private institution the equivalent of St. James and spend slightly less.

2)  Send every single kid in the county to an average private institution and cut the educational budget in half.

3)  Send every single kid in the county to an average private institution and distribute the remaining half of the educational budget to needy people in Shelby County. According to US Census data, there are 15,721 persons below the poverty level in this county.  We could hand each of them a check for $7,730 EVERY YEAR OF THEIR LIFE under this plan. [EDIT: someone check my math on that.]

I’m not saying that would necessarily be the best plan.  I just wanted us to understand the potential power of the stacks and stacks of money being currently wasted through the inefficiencies of the public school system in our county.

There are good people in the public school system; the reason they work there is because most private schools are unable to meet public school compensation levels.  To those, my colleagues in a competing system, I ask:  are you somehow unaware that eliminating the governmental stranglehold on education would lead to higher salaries on the private side, ESPECIALLY for those who throw themselves into the job headfirst?

To those dedicated to the protection of the system at all costs, I ask the simple question–why does maintaining the system require us to ensure that no fair competition between private and public education ever happens? If the system is worth preserving, would it not survive an open market competition between educational service providers?

I invite your civil discussion.  It’s an extremely important topic and nothing will get better until we rip the structure apart and start over, whatever that looks like.


Sling Some 36 Around:

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