Category Archives: education finance

Background and Databases: 2017 Census of Governments Finance Data

The coronavirus has accelerated a reckoning for U.S. state and local governments that had been building up for 25 years, and the consequences, which would have gradually become terrible anyway, will be severe.  Those public officials who made, and benefitted from, the past decisions that will lead to a future of higher taxes, diminished services, and deteriorating infrastructure will eventually leave the scene, perhaps soon.  Their replacements, faced with a crisis and the need to inflict pain on their constituents, might wonder how their community ended up in this situation?  How does their state or locality’s tax burden, in total and by type of tax, and spending, by government function, compare with other places, and how has that changed over time?  Who, compared with other places and compared with the past, has been taking out too much, and/or putting in too little? And to what extent would, should, and could later-born and future residents, who got no related benefits, be sacrificed to pay for the self-dealing of the past?

I have been using data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, and other data sources, to answer questions like these for the past 30+ years.  Including the Census of Governments, which takes place every five years, with the latest data for FY 2017 released late in 2019.   While revised data will be released at some point in 2020, given the coronavirus crisis I have decided to compile and analyze that which is now available.  This, the first of a series of posts, will describe where the data comes from and how I tabulated it.  It includes downloadable spreadsheets with data on state and local government revenues and expenditures, by category, per $1,000 of the personal income of everyone in each area, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  And data for all local governments combined in each county in New York and New Jersey, and many other selected counties around the country chosen for comparison.  Not only for FY 2017, but also – identically – for FY 2007 and FY 1997, for a 20-year trend.

Subsequent posts will include tables, charts and specific analyses of taxes, other revenues, local government education, state government colleges and universities, public safety, health and social services, infrastructure and amenities, and general government.  But as is my custom I’m making the data available up front, so anyone can download it, look at it, and make up their own mind before getting my take on it. My focus is New York and New Jersey, but there is far more in the spreadsheets linked from this post than I intend analyze on an avocational basis. And anyone could have this data to think about themselves, and have it right now.

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Public Higher Education: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

The big issue in higher education, or at least the one that has been pushed in the media, is the burden of student loans.  And the explanation for this crisis that has been advanced is the rising cost of college.  According to sources deemed reliable, while tuition has soared in private colleges and universities due to an amenities arms race and a better deal for faculty, in public higher education unwilling taxpayers are to blame.

https://hbr.org/2019/09/what-will-it-take-to-solve-the-student-loan-crisis

The roots of rising college and university costs are not difficult to identify. For the nation’s 1,600-plus public institutions, the chief culprit has been major reductions in state support; public investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980, according to the American Council on Education. State funding and subsidies were cut by more than $7 billion between 2008 and 2018. What many call the “privatization of public higher education” has shifted most of the states’ share of instructional costs to students and their families, with disruptive results for both students and institutions.

Here is another “study” saying the same thing.

Click to access RB_512HJRB.pdf

I once believed it, but when whenever I looked at the available Census Bureau data on higher education finances, it didn’t fully support it. With the availability of state and local government employment and payroll data for the 2017 Census of Governments, I took another look.

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Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

The two categories of public expenditures that account for the most money are education and health care, but there is a difference in the way they are managed.  Federal, state and local government expenditures fund perhaps 80 percent of third party (not co-payment) health care expenditures, directly (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA Hospital system) or indirectly (private insurance purchased on behalf of civilian government employees, the tax expenditure subsidy due to the exclusion of health insurance payments from taxable income), if voluntary services such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry are excluded.  But most actual health care services, even services to public employees, are provided by private sector health providers, not by employees of government agencies, with the government merely paying the bill. So state and local government health care expenditures show up more completely in Census of Governments finance data, which will be published at some point in the future, than in Census of Governments employment and payroll data.

Most education services, in contrast, are provided directly by government employees.  As a result elementary and secondary school employees accounted for 55.6% of all local government employment in March 2017, on a full time equivalent basis, and higher education employees accounted for 50.8% of state government employment, for that year and on that basis.  There are also local government higher education employees in many states including New York, mostly in community colleges.   It is elementary and secondary school employment and payroll that is the subject of this post.

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It Would Seem That Somebody Doesn’t Like NYC Public Finance Charts

About a month ago, I went to post a comment on an article on the NYC blog Gothamist, which is owned by WNYC (to which we have contributed for decades), and found that I had been banned from commenting.

At about the same time, I sought to comment on an article on the NYC education blog Chalkbeat, and found that the same thing had happened.

Some other funky things started happening to some other comments I made elsewhere at about the same time.  I wrote to each of these sites to ask why I was banned, no so much out of disappointment, but out of curiosity.  Neither responded.  So I am left to look at my last comments on each site, which they deleted from their sites but cannot be deleted from my disqus account, to try to figure out the actual reason.

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Public School Finance Over Two Decades, in NYC And Elsewhere, Based on Census Bureau Data: Anyone Remember “School Reform”?

Remember school reform?  The idea that funding for public schools, in New York City and across the country, would be increased, and in return the kind of education those schools were expected to provide would rise as well, even for poor and disadvantaged students.  “No child left behind.”  Republicans such as George W. Bush were in favor, but so were Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy and Barack Obama.  But nobody talks about it anymore, and for good reason.  In New York City, and some places like it, the schools – and the teachers union — grabbed vastly more money, but once that was locked in they rejected any increased expectations, or any expectations at all, and have since demanded still more money.  In some other states anti-tax politicians reversed higher school funding, though not completely, and left the quality of education lower than it had been decades ago.

Nationwide the reversal was driven by three trends.  Since FY 2007, with the children of the Baby Boomers (aka the Millennials) exiting school, public school enrollment has been falling in many places, and barely increasing nationwide.  So the only generation that matters, the Baby Boomers, wants money and attention shifted to other things — even as the schools and the politicians they support, in places like Upstate NY, want more money funneled through the increasingly empty schools as a jobs and retirement program.  Throughout their adulthood, this generation either failed to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, or retroactively increased those pensions to benefit the generations cashing in and moving out – themselves.  As a result much of the increase in school funding per student that did occur actually went to retired school employees, rather than to the classroom. All this came to a head with the Great Recession, followed by a perpetual fiscal crisis across the country.  One associated with falling tax burdens in some places, but rising tax burdens in New York. School reform is over across the country, but in New York City it was probably a fraud to start with.

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Census of Governments FY 2017: Public Education Finance Data for New York, New Jersey, the U.S. and Selected Other States & Areas

The U.S. Census Bureau released its FY 2017 public education finance data for school districts across the country on May 21st.

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/school-spending.html

Of the 50 states, New York ($23,091), the District of Columbia ($21,974), Connecticut ($19,322), New Jersey ($18,920) and Vermont ($18,290) spent the most per pupil in 2017.  Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were New York City School District in New York ($25,199), Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292), Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184), Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109), and Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921).

As is the case most years, I’ve downloaded this data and compiled it into tables showing per student revenues and expenditures by category for New York, New Jersey, and nearby states, four sections of New York State (New York City, the Downstate Suburbs, Upstate Urban Counties and the Rest of NY State), the U.S. average and other places that interest me.  And every individual school district in New York and New Jersey.   And since this is a Census of Governments year, when the Bureau will later be compiling data on every function of every state and local government in the country, I’ve done exactly the same compilation for FY 2007 and FY 1997, to make comparisons over time possible.

As is my custom, I’ve going to provide an explanation of where the data comes from and how it was compiled, and make the spreadsheets with the data, tables and charts available for download, in this post.  Before providing my take on it later, after I’ve thought about it for a while.   So open-minded and curious people (all three or four of you, apparently) are able to download the spreadsheets, look at the numbers and charts, and make up your own mind, rather than having me tell you what it means.  Moreover, I certainly won’t be writing about every individual school district in New York and New Jersey.  But the data is provided in such a way that anyone else can write about their own.

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Sold Out Futures by State in 2016: Debt and Infrastructure

Debt and infrastructure investment are supposed to go together.   State and local governments have operating budgets and capital budgets, and constitutions and charters that say that while money may be borrowed for capital improvements, the operating budget is supposed to be balanced.

During the Generation Greed era, however, that isn’t what has happened. For the U.S. as a whole, total state and local government debt increased from 14.1% of U.S. residents’ personal income in FY 1981 to 22.7% in FY 2010, even as infrastructure investment diminished. This was a matter of generational values, not just a matter of government.  One finds the same trend in business – more debt, less investment – during the same years, with the short term high of having more taken out relative to the amount put in contributing to perpetual political incumbency and sky-high executive pay.  A generation, it seems, has decided to cash in the United States of America and spend to proceeds before it passes away.

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Sold Out Futures: A State-By-State Comparison of State and Local Government Debts, Past Infrastructure Investment, and Unfunded Pension Liabilities

Four years ago I did an analysis of state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for all states and for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, with data over 40 years, to determine the extent to which each state’s future had been sold out due to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.   Having a sold out future means having a future of higher state and local government taxes, diminished public services, and lower pay and benefits for newly hired public employees, and that is what many parts of the United States – most, in reality – are facing.

Over the past month I have re-created that analysis with data through FY 2016, the latest available, rather than just FY 2012, while adding some details.  This post and the next three will show what I found.

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New York School Spending: Entitlement Feeds More Entitlement And It’s Never Enough

Over the past 25 years some types of Americans have become richer and richer, at the expense of others who have become poorer and poorer – to the point where average life expectancy is starting to fall.  One might have imagined that at some point those who have been taking more and more would conclude that enough is enough, feel obligated to do more in return, and become concerned about the circumstances of others who are less well off.  But that doesn’t seem to happen.  Not among the richest generations in U.S. history, those born from 1930 to 1957, who continue to be completely focused on increasing their own share of the take.  Not among the richest people, the top executives who sit on each other’s boards and vote each other higher and higher pay.  And who anointed themselves “the makers” and everyone else “the takers” within two years of having been bailed out by the federal government, even as “the takers” saw their standard of living plunge, and then demanded another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit themselves.

And not among New York’s unionized public employees, particularly those working in its public schools, who have become the most politically powerful – and selfish – of all self-interest groups at the state and local level here.  Power and selfishness seem to go together in part because no one dares to offend the powerful, by pointing out how much they have taken relative to everyone else, and the connection between others having less and them taking more. So they can continue to feel aggrieved, entitled, resentful, unobligated – and somehow demand even more without embarrassment.  There seems to be no end to it.  This post uses Census Bureau data to show how far it had gone, as of three years ago.

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Census Bureau Public School Finance Data: FY 1996 vs. FY 2016 for New York City, Other School Districts in NY State, and Other Areas

The Census Bureau slipped its data on public school finance out in late May.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html

There was no press release or PDF report, but if you click on 2016 tables at the top and then “Summary Tables,” you can find all the spreadsheets the Bureau previously released in PDF format.   Including, crucially, Table 12 (tabs on the bottom), which ranks states according to their school revenues and expenditures per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income (which adjusts for the state average cost of living and average age and the ability of state taxpayers to pay).  And Table 18, which provides per pupil revenues and expenditures for the 100 largest school districts, including the most expensive by a mile, New York City.  As in the past, I’ve downloaded and compiled more detailed data for every school district in New York State and New Jersey, the U.S. average, the averages for selected other states, and selected school districts elsewhere.  And tabulated revenues and expenditures per student by category for FY 2016 and FY 1996 — with an adjustment for the higher average wage in the high-cost of living Northeast Corridor.

I’ve been holding onto the data for a month, re-downloading and checking it against other sources, because New York City’s expenditures and staffing levels had become so extreme that I can hardly believe it.   Especially since it would be much higher today, in FY 2019.  And because Mayor Bill DeBlasio, candidate for Governor Cynthia Nixon, and a lawsuit from a group backed by the United Federation of Teachers claim that New York City school funding is inadequate, with the schools “cheated out of $billions.” How high was it?  Take a look.

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