Public schools

Public Funding for Schools Has Increased for 30 Years. Why Doesn't UVA's Education Dean Know That?

The Washington Post finally corrected Dean Robert Pianta's erroneous op-ed.


In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Robert Pianta—dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and Human Development—claimed that "giving public schools more money" is the one trick education reformers haven't yet tried.

He's wrong, and The Washington Post has finally corrected his claim.

In his piece, Pianta said that per-pupil education funding has decreased since the late 1980s. "Schools have been starved for funds," he complains, and things only became worse in recent years:

This lack of investment was only compounded by the Great Recession, which prompted state legislatures to shift already limited funds and sources of revenue from districts to balance their budgets and bridge spending gaps elsewhere. Nonwhite communities and underserved rural and urban areas particularly suffered the consequences, languishing as a result of regressive funding formulas tied to property taxes. To this day, funding levels have failed to recover from this raid on our schools' financial reserves.

This is a shocking claim, writes the Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey, in that it's completely wrong.

K-12 spending since 1979-80, inflation-adjusted
Via Neal McCluskey / Cato Institute

"This spending data is well-known among wonks, and while it is open to some interpretation, I can find nothing supporting Pianta's claim," writes McCluskey.

Indeed, as is evident from the graph above, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has actually increased dramatically over time.

"Robert Pianta's claim is incorrect regardless of how the data is sliced," writes my colleague Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice reform at the Reason Foundation, in a piece for The Washington Examiner. "According to the National Center for Education Statistics' database, inflation-adjusted education funding increased by at least 36% since 1989—whether you look at state, local, federal, or total dollars per pupil. The increases are much larger if you look at overall spending amounts rather than per-pupil totals."

The Washington Post has finally conceded defeat and posted the following correction at the top of the article:

Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that, adjusting for constant dollars, public funding for schools had decreased since the late 1980s. This is not the case. In fact, funding at the federal, state and local levels has increased between the 1980s and 2019.

I emailed Pianta to ask whether he thought this correction undercut the op-ed's argument, but did not immediately receive a response.

I can understand not knowing the exact numbers, but it strikes me as extremely disappointing that the dean of a prestigious education school would not be aware of the general trajectory of public education funding.

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  1. Increased spending per pupil does not fit the narrative. Therefore it’s not true. Why bother when the facts when the facts can’t possibly be factual. The narrative is all that matters and the narratives says to keep throwing money on the bonfire.

    I mean, duh!

    1. I think it is a need of time to increase school funds because it is about the future of our kids. So i believe its time someone stand up for the funds in school and also i think computer labs should be advanced. How to make computer faster such questions should be dealt too because we need good computer labs in schools.

  2. I have friendly debates with some super lefties, and where I think this argument comes from is some…out-of-the-box studies done by teacher friendly think tanks that attempt to control for differences in local costs. You see, if most of the kids live in a city where it is very expensive to live, then they adjust the revenues to reflect the fact that everything is more expensive. So, even though more money goes into CA schools each year, they “in fact” have had even or declining revenues compared to purchasing power.

    While I can see the value of this type of accounting, it is utterly opaque. I have tried to analyze the data and they provide no information, so you cannot understand the methodology. It is likely skewed by things like discounting a school’s revenues that is spent on salaries even though we know that schools pay way more people per student than they used to.

  3. Oh come on now! Obviously that graph includes spending for admin, staff, official cars, police, J-9 officers, metal detectors, new buildings, and other associated non-educational aspects! Actual educational spending his dipped dangerously low.

    Man do I gotta figure out all this stuff for you?

    1. So fire some administrators. Seriously, no school needs 3 vice principals.

  4. It’s government math. Here in Georgia, the AJC kept whining about educational funds being slashed because some blue-ribbon panel had recommended educational spending be increased by a billion dollars a year and when those miserable bastards in the legislature only approved a 600 million dollar increase, that was therefore a 400 million dollar cut. You can claim all you want that spending has increased, but when it doesn’t increase as much as it should, that’s a decrease in spending.

    Alternatively, you can always use educational spending as a percentage of something or other as your metric and claim that if educational spending as a percentage falls, that’s a cut as well. 20% is clearly less than 25%, and if you’re talking about schools getting 20% of a 12 billion dollar budget now versus 25% of the 8 billion dollar budget they used to get, that doesn’t change the fact that 20 is less than 25 one bit.

    1. I have otherwise good friends who are teachers and they constantly whine about their budgets getting slashed. Always whining about having to buy pencils because the budget isn’t big enough to buy pencils for a school.

      It’s all bullshit. They just sucked into the union mentality and have had their common sense kicked out of them. Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s not partisan, it’s public unions versus stingy taxpayers.

      My father taught in elementary school for over forty years. I taught myself for a couple of years. The budget keeps going up. Sometimes it’s accounted strangely, sometimes the new money has weird string attached to them, but the budgets kept going up.

      As fir pencils, if it’s true in your school then it’s the fault of your local schoolboard. You have the budget for pencils! And even if you don’t, buying pencils for your students isn’t going to personally bankrupt you. That you think you’re making a cogent argument by bringing up pencils does not negate the fact that all the parents think you’re being a whiny asshole. I can get two gross of pencils, more than enough for the entire school year, for only $25. That’s Amazon. I could get cheaper if I pooled my resources with the other teachers and bought in bulk. If a school district can’t manage to buy pencils at the rate of five to ten cents a pencil, they need to be audited and administrators assigned to the stocks.

      1. While I only taught college, my moms third career was teaching grades 1-3, and two gross pencils isn’t nearly enough, especially when most kids are either directly single parent, or one parent is deployed around the world – and even worse when the kid lives with Aunt because Mommy is deployed to Iraq this year. There are very much schools, and school districts, that fall into this pattern.

        That said, your last sentence is far more true than most know. The money is comedically poorly spent.

        Just do the math: at 8k per kid per year that’s $240k per class of 30 per year. Give half of that to the teacher for total comp, another 20 for rent at a business park, another 15 for daily catering, and you’re only up to 165 in annualized recurring costs leaving a 15k slush fund and a 60k kickback per class. And that’s at old funding levels. Bring that up to the ~14k per kid now and it’s more like $400k available per year. At that the teacher could hire any number of aides to help them.

  5. I think that bulge in the late 2000s was was a huge ARRA money dump on public schools by Obama, in order to placate the teacher unions who were worried that their members would be laid off during the recession.

    I know PA used that money to artificially inflate school subsidies for three years, then when the Republican governor took over and that funding ended, they could accuse him of cutting school funding, even though he increased the state grant levels. Pretty good politics

  6. but it strikes me as extremely disappointing that the dean of a prestigious education school would not be aware of the general trajectory of public education funding

    I’d be disappointed if they didn’t have this view. Then I’d have to re-visit my own standing assumption that all Education Deans are douche-bag lefties who are fucking ignorant of Economics and the realities of school funding.

    1. I wouldn’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that Mr. Pianta is unaware of spending levels just because what he says is happening is not so.

    2. Who knew the other side had fact checkers?

  7. How does he not know that? Liberals are dishonest know nothings. Ask him about the rising share of pension costs next.

    1. There’s that word again. “cost”. I know not what you speak of.

      1. Well, it is a four letter word after all.

  8. Give him an “F”.

  9. Dems argue from debate reality.

    In any debate they formulate arguments entirely based on what would win the point. Whether the assertions are true is completely irrelevant.

  10. “Public Funding for Schools Has Increased for 30 Years. Why Doesn’t UVA’s Education Dean Know That?”

    Because he’s a brainless progressive idiot who doesn’t do his homework.

  11. Does anyone actually know Dr Pianta’s ethinicy? I’d like to know. Sources please.

  12. People with education degrees are, as objective psychometric evaluation shows, the least-informed and least-intelligent degree-holders.

    College deans are then selected from those with degrees in a field who don’t successfully run in horror from spending all their time doing dull, stupid administrative work rather than teaching or research.

    There is accordingly nothing in the least surprising about the dean of an education department displaying stupidity and ignorance.

  13. I wouldn’t call this claim shocking. It’s obviously wrong but they’ve been making it for decades.

    1. Yes the liberals/progressives been using the idea of declining funding to cover for the failed public education system.

  14. I can understand not knowing the exact numbers, but it strikes me as extremely disappointing that the dean of a prestigious education school would not be aware of the general trajectory of public education funding.

    Just why would it surprise you for the dean of a prestigious education school not be aware of the general trajectory of public education when by stating the truth about funding is not P C and if said could cost him his position as dean?

  15. Note that on pretty much every category, the US government spends far more lavishly than European governments while getting worse results. Yet Democrats are telling us that the solution is to spend even more.

    For education, the disparity is particularly egregious: US schools pay many times than what European schools pay for achieving the same or better results.

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  18. “School of Education and Human Development”? How long has it had that name? I presume it used to be “School of Education”. And that even under that name, it is a heck of a lot younger than the University it is part of.

  19. Public schools have continued to struggle under the weight of misguided reform and legislation. Meanwhile, politicians neglected to consider the thing that might improve education the most but never emerged as part of a far-reaching solution set: investing more public money in our teachers and children. Today, we must rectify that mistake and properly fund our schools.

  20. Lack of investment is something we need to be worried about. Experts were discussing it in the magazine of Parents and guardians are more concerned about it.

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