The Cost of Education

David Crane
Lecturer and Research Scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California

Everyone knows housing costs are a problem for middle-class Californians but also troublesome are education costs. Recently the New York Times profiled a San Francisco couple earning $150,000 per year who just had a baby. If San Francisco’s public schools aren’t acceptable to them when their baby is ready to start school, the couple — who already pay taxes to fund schools — will have to pay for a private school that on average in San Francisco costs $20,000 per year. A good education will be critical to their child’s future but an extra $20,000 per year — nearly 20 percent of the couple’s after tax-income — would be a crushing financial burden, and that’s just for one child. 

It would be a great financial benefit to California’s middle class families if the state’s public schools provided high-quality educations — but they don’t. That’s despite a huge increase in spending to $100 billion per year,  more than $17,000 per student, as described in an excellent column by CALMatters’s Dan Walters. That’s because the state Education Code authored by the legislature and governor prohibits school districts from managing schools for the benefit of students. Rich couples often choose private schools but few parents of 6.2 million public school kids have that luxury.

California’s legislature and governor have the power to make California’s public schools excellent. To do that they must repeal laws that require school districts to offer lifetime employment and to lay off employees in reverse seniority, make it easier for school districts to terminate underperforming employees and suspend automatic pension benefit increases, and require school districts to adopt cost-effective health insurance plans and means-test post-employment subsidies.

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