Graph: Education Costs Explode While Performance Flat-lines

Sarah Jean Seman
Posted: Sep 03, 2014 6:00 PM
Graph: Education Costs Explode While Performance Flat-lines

A recent Mercatus Center report found that in 1920 the federal government spent just under 29 million in today’s dollars on education costs—that comes out to be only $1.34 per student. Today, that cost has ballooned to approximately $11,000 per student. While the funding has spiked, there seem to be few indications that additional funds are improving academic performance.

The U.S. Constitution is conspicuously silent on the topic of education, indicating (per the 10th Amendment) that the decisions remain at the hands of individual states. Despite this, federal education laws and regulations continue to bloat the system and have caused spending in the arena to skyrocket over the past few decades.

According to Courtney A. Collins, an economics professor and author of the recent report, the educational gains hardly outweigh the taxpayers' loses:

Reading scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress have been reported since 1971. Scores for 17-year-olds show no significant change from 1971 to 2012, with only a slight increase for 9- and 13-year-olds. Similar trends exist for math scores, with even a small decrease for 17-year-olds. Plotting the scores across time creates basically a horizontal line — a stark contrast to the steep incline of federal oversight and spending across the same period.

The graph below helps conceptualize a few of the numbers discussed in the report.