When those students got off the bus, taxpayers spent even more money on them -- for things other than education in a classroom.
For example, according to the Digest of Education Statistics published in December by the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics, the government spent $21,862,081,000 in the 2012-2013 school year on food services in public schools.
That included $10,110,833,000 on supplies for these food services, $6,607,701,000 on salaries for the people working in them, and $2,529,156,000 on their employee benefits.
Students in public schools today can get both a free ride and a free (or subsidized) lunch.
But taxpayers cover the costs.
In total, taxpayers spent $606,490,475,000 on public elementary and secondary schools in the 2012-2013 school year, according to Digest of Education Statistics. That worked out to an average of $12,020 per pupil -- including $467 per student for transportation and $439 for food services.
What did taxpayers get in return for the ride, the lunch and the $12,020 per student?
In 2015, public school eighth-graders scored an average of 264 out of a possible 500 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, according to Table 221.60 of the Digest of Education Statistics. Only 33 percent were grade-level proficient or better in reading.
Public school eighth-graders scored an average of 281 out of 500 on the NAEP math test, according to Table 222.60. Only 32 percent were grade-level proficient or better in math.
Some jurisdictions spent more money than the average. Some had worse scores. Some did both.
In President Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii, the public schools spent $12,536 per pupil in the 2012-2013 school year, according to Table 236.75. But in 2015, only 26 percent of the eighth-graders in Hawaii's public school were grade-level proficient or better in reading. Only 30 percent were grade-level proficient or better in math.
In Vice President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware, the public schools spent $15,090 per pupil in the 2012-2013 school year. But in 2015, only 31 percent of the eighth-graders in Delaware's public schools were grade level proficient in reading. Only 30 percent were grade-level proficient or better in math.
In Washington, D.C., where President Obama sent his children to a private school, the public schools spent $26,670 per pupil in the 2012-2013 school year. But in 2015, only 19 percent of eighth-graders in the D.C. public schools were grade-level proficient or better in reading. Only 19 percent were grade-level proficient or better in math.
President-elect Donald Trump advocates school choice. His campaign website says his vision on education includes establishing "the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged children living in poverty."
That may be a good start. But it is not good enough.
School choice programs should not become yet another avenue for government redistribution of wealth. They should aim at lifting the entire nation from the wreckage of the public schools.
Middle-class families who now pay taxes to subsidize a failing government school system should not be shut out of a school-choice program that can liberate their children from that system.
In the District of Columbia, where the federal Congress has jurisdiction, it should pass a law providing that every parent of every student -- even former President Barack Obama -- be given a voucher equal to what the government spends per pupil in the D.C. public schools. That voucher should be redeemable at any school the parent chooses.
And the government should be restrained from regulating the curriculum and the values taught at those schools.
If that means many D.C. public schools close while new private schools open, so be it. Make government schools compete or die.
The same law should provide for phasing out the federal Department of Education. Congress should tell states and local jurisdictions: You are on your own when it comes to primary and secondary education. Let your voters decide.
Those voters should do for their hometowns what Congress should for the District of Columbia: enact school choice.