The debate surrounding the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Measure A is more important than the vote. Instead of arguing back and forth about whether or not the emergency parcel tax is equitable or financially feasible for some during rough financial times, we should be asking these simple questions: Does spending more money get you a better education? If yes, then why not spend five times more and match Washington D.C.? Should we instead have the parents not only determine the amount of the tax but also pay for that said amount?
So let’s see if we can find the facts that will help us with these tough questions. You’ll hear people claim that California is near the bottom, or next to last in spending per student. That is a lie. California was 23rd out of 50 states in spending at $9,152 per student on average, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report titled “Public Education Finances.”
Did you know California spends more money on education than any other state in the nation? According to the Census Bureau, California spent $52 billion on education, which makes our state the number one spender for education in the U.S. New York state spent $40 billion to earn the number two spot. New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. respectively take the top three positions for spending per pupil as well. If you’re not aware, Washington D.C. has some of the lowest graduation rates and some of the worst testing results in the world, but spends $3,760 more money per student than Santa Monica!
Since 1984, the real per-pupil spending in the United States increased by 49 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics, Table 171. At this point you may have noticed that, unlike most of the people you’ve heard talking about this topic, I’m talking about facts, and giving you the sources for my facts. My facts come from the Department of Education, the Census Bureau, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and Federal Statistical Abstracts. I’m providing you with the raw numbers, without all the political spin.
While Washington D.C. spends the most at $14,136, Santa Monica spends $3,760 less. That means we would have to increase a Measure A-size tax by five times to $1,000 per taxpayer to match Washington D.C.’s per pupil spending.
In all fairness, I cannot tell you how much money per student you need to spend to give your child a good public education. But I can tell you how much someone spends to send their child to a fantastic Catholic school like St. Monica School, right here in beautiful Santa Monica. Regular tuition is $7,900 per year. In other words we would not need Measure A if we turned our children over to the local Catholic school. It worked for both presidents Kennedy and Obama.
So, let’s look at how much the SMMUSD spends per student. In the 2008-09 school year, they had 11,565 students and spent $123.7 million. That’s $10,376 per student. That puts us in the top 10 in the country per student when compared to other states’ spending. It also means we spend $2,476 more per student than the local Catholic school. Do you believe that St. Monica provides a better education than SMMUSD?
I sat down and read every budget presentation found on the SMMUSD website (www.smmusd.org) and I was bewildered. Go ahead, try to figure out how much they will spend in 2010-11 school year. You’ll be led to every permutation of how they’re not getting as much money as they planned. Honestly, I couldn’t have buried the facts better if I tried. Submerged in a storm of line items, I couldn’t find a simple statement that says, we plan on spending $123 million to educate 11,565 students. It was buried in the tables but wasn’t clearly stated in the presentations. Keep in mind that I studied to be an actuary and numbers and statistics aren’t something I’m intimidated by.
So what does it mean to spend more money per student than any other public school in the country? Here is a quote from the Washington Post about the $14,136 per student expenditure:
“Then she graduated from Cardozo High School and arrived at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where she bombed the placement tests so badly that she had to take remedial English and math. She failed the makeup math course twice before passing it. Low grades overall put her on academic probation. Finally, mid-sophomore year, she was forced to withdraw.”
Santa Monica, let’s see a little leadership. This is not an inner-city school district. This is the world famous Malibu and Santa Monica. We can give our children the best education in the world. I hope after you read this you’ll look at the numbers yourself. That is your responsibility as a citizen of Santa Monica. This is not a Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal issue. This is common sense. If your local school is not educating your children for a fair price, then you must do something about it.
David Alsabery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.