School choice opponents like to describe choice programs as diverting money from public schools, which they claim remain perpetually underfunded.

And when confronted with data showing per pupil funding skyrocketing over the past several decades with no positive academic results to show for it, they begin inventing fake excuses for why spending has increased so dramatically (why the increased spending didn’t improve outcomes goes unaddressed).

Two such excuses that rise to the top of the list include: 1) higher construction expenses for school buildings, in part driven by higher safety standards and costlier materials, and 2) investment in technology, like computers, to aid in student learning.

The first excuse can be immediately dismissed, because the data presented on per pupil spending typically involves operating costs, and excludes capital costs like building construction and renovation.

Which brings us to number 2. A look at North Carolina public school data, however, reveals that “instructional equipment” makes up only 1.84% of total public school spending (as of FY 2022-23 school year).

Moreover, of the more than $7.7 billion in new spending between FY 2004-05 and FY 2022-23, only 3% of that was “instructional equipment.” And to be generous, “instructional equipment” even in categories like security, transportation, and housekeeping was included.

It’s absurd on its face to attribute major spending increases on a category comprising such a tiny fraction of total expenditures.

In contrast, given that more than 80% of public school appropriations are on employee salaries and benefits, any honest assessment of increases in school funding would need to focus on that.

What we see there are some very revealing data:

  • From FY 2004-05 to FY 2022-23, statewide enrollment increased by just 2.5%
  • The number of full-time teachers during that time increased a commensurate 2.2%
  • Teacher’s assistant positions decreased by 24.5% during that time

Overall, these various categories of administrators increased by 82%

So where did we see significant increases in personnel?

  • Official administrators and managers: 45% increase
  • “Other” professionals (excluding guidance, librarians, and psychologists): 90% increase
  • Consultants/supervisors: 107% increase
  • Overall, these various categories of administrators increased 82%
  • By 2022-23, there was 1 such administrator for every 6.9 full-time teachers, up significantly from 1 administrator to every 12.3 full-time teachers in 2004-05.

Further adding upward pressure on public school budgets is the rapidly rising cost of employee benefits. As my colleague Bob Luebke has pointed out, in just the ten years from 2012-13 to 2022-23, the total cost of benefits the state pays to K-12 public school educators increased from $2.4 billion to $4 billion.

School choice opponents are getting desperate, and in their desperation are making up absurd excuses for where the billions in additional public school dollars have gone, while failing to confront the academic improvement that hasn’t accompanied it.