Throwing money at a problem is often a cop-out allowing one to avoid addressing real problems. Calls for increased funding to address the problems dooming the American public school system are exactly that.

The problems plaguing American public schools are not ones related to a lack of funding, but rather ones related to low standards, an impossible game of catch-up from COVID-era learning loss, and the wokeness that has infected many classrooms across the country. 

New polling from EdChoice reveals that school funding is a great mystery to both parents and the general public. When asked how much they thought their state spent per year on funding per pupil, participants’ guesses were on average several thousand dollars lower than the reality. 

The groups surveyed included parents of children in kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth through eighth grade, ninth through twelfth grade, and non-parents. Of these groups, non-parents came the closest with their guesses at $6,000 per pupil. 

As the graph below illustrates, the estimates of parents gradually increased as their children got older. Parents of kindergarteners through fourth graders estimated $3,000, those with fifth graders through eighth graders estimated $4,000, and parents of high schoolers estimated $5,000. 

When we consider the true cost of per-student spending in U.S. public schools, these findings are shocking. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics maps out the tens of thousands of dollars that are spent per pupil in each state.

New York ranks number one for per-pupil spending at $25,273 while Utah spends the least at $8,257. Every other state lies somewhere in middle, with an average of $13,489 per pupil. What is even more telling is that many of the states with the highest funding have seen significant enrollment decreases in recent years. 

On top of the already inflated rates of per-pupil spending, school districts—both public and private—received over $190 billion in extra federal funding in 2020 and 2021 that has largely gone unused or been spent on questionable budget items. This influx of cash coincides with a steep learning loss that has devastated educational outcomes across the country. Clearly, more funding is not the solution. 

Public schools are awash in cash, which is, unfortunately, being mismanaged and wasted. Improvements to the public education systems are possible without additional taxpayer dollars. Rather than continuously caving to the relentless funding demands of unions and bureaucrats who benefit from the K-12 education system, policymakers should allow education funding to follow students. It’s time to fund students, rather than systems.