Do Facts Scare You?

31 December 2003

The True Cost of Public Education
by Craig J. Cantoni

Do you know what your family pays for public education? You probably don’t, because it is a number that the establishment media do not tell you and that the government and the National Education Association do not want you to know. If you knew, you might not put up with their incessant begging for more money.

If you own a home, your property tax bill shows how much of your property taxes goes to public schools, but that is only about half of what you pay.

The other half is hidden in your state and federal income taxes and other taxes, and in the cost of goods and services that you purchase from businesses, which also pay public school taxes through their income and property taxes. For example, when you have a sweater dry cleaned at the neighborhood cleaners, a portion of the bill goes to public schools, although your sweater doesn’t attend school.

While it is virtually impossible to know the exact amount that your family pays for public education, an approximation of the number can be determined by calculating the per-household cost of education in your state. To do so, divide the total state, local and federal money spent on public K-12 education in your state by the number of households in the state.

The cost will vary widely from state to state, due to wide variations in state education spending, which in turn are mostly due to wide variations in a state’s cost of living and per-capita income. And of course, what you actually pay in a given state will depend on your family’s tax bracket and home valuation.

To use my state as an example, the per-household cost of public education in Arizona is $3,137 per annum. If you have children in public school, that might seem like a bargain, until you realize that you and your spouse pay the cost over your entire adult lives and not just the 12 years that your children attend public school. Assuming an adult life of 60 years, the total lifetime cost, on average, is $188,220 per household. In high-tax states like New York, the cost is over $250,000.

In preparation for this article, I sent e-mails to 34 Arizona acquaintances, asking them if they knew the annual per-household cost for the state. All of them are highly intelligent, successful and politically active. Their answers ranged from a low of $600 to a high of $12,000. Many said they had no idea.

No doubt, the 34 acquaintances know what their house, car, utilities and groceries cost. But thanks to the government and media, they do not know what they pay for the big-ticket item of public education. Of course, it is impossible to make an informed buying decision about a service without knowing the cost, which is how the education establishment likes it.

By contrast, my wife and I know exactly what it costs to educate our son. We pay $4,000 a year in tuition and bus fees to send him to a local parochial elementary school, or $32,000 over eight years. We will spend an additional $28,000 to send him to a local Catholic college-prep high school for four years. The total of $60,000 is about one-third of the household cost of public education.

Public education is a raw deal for my family, because we get nothing in return for our household cost of $188,220, other than overblown rhetoric about the common good from well-off public school parents who take our money for their own good. But it is also a raw deal for most parents who send their kids to public school.

There are two children per family in Arizona (actually 1.97 children). Two children can receive an academically superior Catholic education for $120,000, or $68,220 less than the household cost of public education. The parents could contribute half of the $68,220 to the education of the poor and still come out $34,110 ahead.

Sure, someone can quibble over the numbers, but as I said at the beginning, an approximation is all we have in the absence of a government report that tells you what you actually pay. At least the Social Security Administration gives you a personal statement of what you have paid in Social Security taxes over your working life.

But don’t expect a report or statement anytime soon on what you pay in public school taxes. The government, the National Education Association and the establishment media know that there would be a public outcry if the true cost of public education were known.

Imagine frequent headlines such as the following in the Arizona Republic: ”School cost a record $188,220 per household.” Rich and poor parents alike would start demanding either a cut in education spending or a voucher for $188,220 that could be used at the school of their choice. Either way, the government and NEA hegemony over K-12 education would end.

We wouldn’t want that to happen—wink, wink—so let’s join the establishment media in keeping the number a secret.

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Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (HAALT). He can be reached at

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