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NEPC Review: They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools (March 2010)

The CATO Institute’s Policy Analysis They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools contends that the figures most commonly associated with spending on K-12 public education do not include all relevant expenditures. It also cites survey evidence suggesting that voters underestimate the cost of education and, when presented with a higher per-pupil expenditure figure, will support lower spending. The report notes that education is the largest spending category in combined state and local budgets, and it examines spending in five of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas plus the District of Columbia. The heart of the analysis is a comparison, within each of the selected districts, of three alternative calculations of school spending. An estimated private school cost is also calculated and presented. The report presents large "real" costs per pupil. However, the spending numbers calculated for the report actually double count, adding in both capital construction and debt service. The use of flawed data renders the report to be of limited value in policymaking.

Suggested Citation: Altemus, V. (2010, May 5). Review of "They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools." Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved [date] from

Document Reviewed:

They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Adam Schaeffer
Cato Institute