I recently received some comments from a reader of our paper, Examining Decades of Growth in K-12 Education.

In the paper, we wrote, “Texas’ per-pupil costs increased from $3,659 in 1987 to $11,024 in 2007, a 66 percent increase when adjusted for inflation,” the inference being that state spending on education had increased too much.

The reader, using Mark Twain’s comment about “lies, damn lies, and then statistics,” questioned the validity of our comparing spending on public education in 2007 to 1987. His main point was that “it is very difficult to compare the 80s student with the present-day student” because of changing populations, more diversity, etc.

Here is my response:

You are correct that things have changed greatly in our public education over the last 30 years. But, of course, that is true in most aspects of our society. And true even with money, the value of which is being inflated away.

Yet, we need ways to measure our involvement in and spending on different things to help us understand if we value our investments over other possible investments and whether we are getting an adequate return.

For instance, the federal government is mandating a tremendous growth in state expenditures on Medicaid. Are we comfortable with that? Would we rather spend taxpayer money on Medicaid or public education or transportation infrastructure-or leave it with the taxpayers?

Certainly the change in expenditures is not the only measure of whether our spending on public education has sufficient value. But it is one way to help taxpayers and policymakers gain a perspective on it. Including whether or not we are being efficient in our spending.

I agree with you that there are a lot of factors that can be taken into consideration here. I hope this helps you understand why we suggest the change in expenditures over the years should be one of them.

-Bill Peacock