Per-pupil spending: a family factor?


Once again, the U.S. Census Bureau has ranked Idaho next to last in per-pupil spending.

Tom Luna

State superintendent Tom Luna

And reacting to this familiar news, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna made a familiar argument to explain the numbers.

One factor working against Idaho is family size, Luna said Tuesday. Because Idaho’s families are larger, school children make up a higher percentage of the population. So, relatively speaking, Idaho taxpayers have to shoulder a heavier burden to bankroll education.

Luna has made this point before. But does it hold up?

To an extent, it does.

The latest Census Bureau report contains a wealth of data, including a breakdown of state populations and school enrollments.

In 2011, elementary and secondary school students made up 16.8 percent of Idaho’s population, above the national average of 15.5 percent.

The family-size argument is even stronger when it comes to Utah — the one and only state Idaho consistently outspends. School children made up 19.4 percent of Utah’s population.

Looking at the top and bottom five in per-pupil spending, though, the percentages are definitely a mixed bag.

Top five:

  • New York. Population: 19,502,000. Enrollment: 2,677,412. Student percentage: 13.7.
  • District of Columbia. Population: 619,000. Enrollment: 44,199. Student percentage: 7.1.
  • Alaska. Population: 724,000. Enrollment: 131,704. Student percentage: 18.1.
  • New Jersey. Population: 8,835,000. Enrollment: 1,399,409. Student percentage: 15.8 percent.
  • Vermont. Population: 627,000. Enrollment: 86,982. Student percentage: 13.9.

Bottom five:

  • Mississippi. Population: 2,977,000. Enrollment: 490,526. Student percentage: 16.5.
  • Arizona. Population: 6,467,000. Enrollment: 946,571. Student percentage: 14.6.
  • Oklahoma. Population: 3,784,000. Enrollment: 658,163. Student percentage: 17.4.
  • Idaho. Population: 1,584,000. Enrollment: 265,713. Student percentage: 16.8.
  • Utah. Population: 2,814,000. Enrollment: 545,395. Student percentage: 19.4.

  • John Rusche

    I am doubtful that it plays into the cost of k-12 education significantly. I cannot for the life of me see why it would cost less to have a 4th and 2nd grader of the same family as opposed to two similar kids from different families.

    Do larger families have a higher socio-economic status, more stability, or do more home support than the smaller families? If so that might lower costs. Do they have less intellectually or emotionally impaired kids? That might make a difference.

    It sounds to me that this is another attempt on the part of Republican state leadership to explain why kids in Idaho do not deserve as much support as the students in other states. I have hear it said, usually by older citizens who’s children have already used the public school system, that “if they have so many kids they should pay more in taxes to support them.” Another comment is “I don’t even live in the school district. Why should I be taxed on my business property to support someone else’s kids”.

    Communities succeed when there is a robust educational and career ladder. Here in Idaho we have seen, I believe, the effect of systematic dis-investment in K-12 and higher Education with bottom of the barrel family wages and out-migration of young productive workers and businesses. And here to fore our response has been to cut revenues, cut taxes on the businesses remaining hoping that they will expand and pick up the slack, and due to lower revenues, cut support for education. .

    But there is not much room for growth in jobs in Ag and natural resources with the gains in automation and efficiency. It only takes 1/3-1/2 as many workers to run most producing plants, sawmills and light manufacturing..

    • Kevin S. Wilson

      Speaking in May to a reporter (Todd Kunz) from KIDK TV in Idaho Falls, Mr. Luna was asked why “[education funding] is upside down” in Idaho. His response?

      It’s just a matter of time until we strike it rich with natural gas. Seriously.

      “Well you mentioned Wyoming earlier. We have to remember that Wyoming hit the natural resources lottery. We have that potential in Idaho. I mean, we are finding the natural gas and those kinds of things. You know, we could have a moment like Wyoming,” said Luna.

      And the cause of insufficient funding? It isn’t the Legislature imposing cuts year after year after year. It isn’t the hundreds of outdated and irrelevant sales-tax exemptions granted to businesses. And it for sure isn’t the recent tax cut bestowed upon the richest 17% of Idaho individuals and corporations. No, as noted in the article above, Mr. Luna says that schools are underfunded because Idaho has fewer taxpayers per student than most other states.

      “‘For example, in Massachusetts, only about nine percent of their population is in the k-12 school system. In Idaho, it’s almost twice that amount,’ said Luna. He said Massachusetts has smaller families, and more taxpayers per student. In Idaho, there are larger families and fewer taxpayers per student. ‘That affects the amount of money you’re going to spend per child,’ said Luna.”

      By the way, isn’t Mr. Luna also contradicting himself and everyone else who has ever said “You can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it”? He seems to be saying “Gee, I really wish that I could throw money at the problem, but there just aren’t enough taxpayers to put together a really big wad of cash.”

      I’m beginning to think that he’s not entirely sure what he’s saying, but I suspect that he believes that this facile, simplistic bit of hand-waving will mollify those who are paying half attention, at best.