$250,000 per classroom: how is it spent; what is the return?

$250,000 per classroom: how is it spent; what is the return?

In 2017, Kansas schools invested $6.084 billion to
educate a total of 490,000 students (headcount enrollment). That is about $12,500
per K-12 student or $250,000 for a classroom of 20.  How is that money being spent?  More important, what are Kansans receiving
for that investment?

Every dollar invested in Kansas schools is used to support student learning. Higher earnings by more educated students pays back that investment many times over.

One important note: these are statewide average
numbers. Individual school districts will vary because of big differences in
population, student needs, geography and local priorities.
do school districts use their funds?

Start with the teachers. Thanks
to efforts to keep classes small, the average class size in Kansas is less than
20 students. Kansas had the 8th lowest pupil to teacher ratio among the 50 states
in 2016, the year of the most recent national data. Counting all teachers and
other instructional staff, including special education paraprofessionals and
other classroom aides to assist these teachers, there are almost two
instructional positions for every 20 students. 
Salaries for teachers and
classroom aides, along with textbooks and instructional supplies, make up just
over 53 percent of that “quarter-million dollar” classroom: about $134,000 for
a class of twenty. That pays for the salaries of two people, plus benefits, other
employment costs, retirement contributions, as well as textbooks and other
The next largest share of
classroom costs is the classroom itself, along with the rest of the school
building: the library, gym, auditorium and lunchroom, as well as equipment like
computers to go with textbooks and chalkboards. On average, Kansas school
districts spent 12 percent of funds on facilities acquisition and debt service,
or $30,000 for every 20 students for buildings and equipment, including
payments on construction bonds.
Once constructed, schools also
must be maintained and operated. Districts spent 8.8 percent, or about $22,000
for every 20 students for heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning school
facilities, as well as keeping them safe and secure.
Next, students have to get to
school. Districts spend 3.9 percent of funding, about $10,000 for every 20
students, on transportation. State law requires transporting children who live
more than 2.5 miles from school and special education students; and many more
are bused for safety reasons or to provide a choice in schools or programs. On
average, nine students out of a class of 20 will receive transportation
services from the school district.
Schools also provide meals for
students. Lunch and breakfast programs cost about $10,000 for every 20
students, or 4.1 percent of all funds. Most of this cost is paid by federal
student meal programs or fees paid by students and staff. (These fees are also
part of the total cost per pupil.)  This
provides $2.78 cents per day for 180 school days for each student.
In addition to teachers, schools
also provide counselors, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists,
audiologists, nurses, attendance and resource officers and security staff. Kansas
schools have one of these student support positions for every six classrooms of
20 students, at a cost of 4.8 percent of funding or $12,000 for a class of 20.
Schools also need libraries,
technology support and professional development programs to continuously
improve teaching, and assessment of how students are learning. Kansas districts
spend 3.3 percent of funds on these purposes (about $8,500 per classroom). Districts
have about one staff member for these instructional support activities for
every eight classrooms.
In charge of each school is a
principal and his or her staff. These individuals supervise and evaluate
teachers and other school support staff, oversee student discipline, and support
relations with parents. In small schools, the principal is also responsible for
many of the duties listed above. Kansas districts spend 4.9 percent, or about
$12,000, for every 20 students on school leadership. Districts have on average one
principal or assistant for every 275 students.
All other expenditures – about
4.5 percent of the total or $11,500 per classroom – include general administration
and central services, including the superintendent, business office, human
resources and legal costs.  In small
districts, the superintendent is often also a principal and handles these
duties and more.  Most districts
participate in cooperative organizations to share many of these functions and
reduce costs.
Return on investment

A quarter-of-a-million dollars per
year is a big investment in a classroom of students. But the payoff is even
bigger.  The earnings difference between
a high school graduate and a high school dropout in Kansas is over 5,000 per
year; for attending some college up to an associate degree over $9,000; for a
bachelor’s degree over $23,000 and for a graduate or professional degree
Using current educational levels of
Kansans over 25 to project the average number of students in a class of 20 who
will reach each of those levels results in total additional earnings of $266,000
each year.  If 85 percent of that class
is participating in the workforce (current Kansas rate)
for an average of 40 years, that results in lifetime increased earnings of over
$9 million for each class, compared to the $3.25 million invested in that class
($250,000 for each of 13 years).
In other words, estimated lifetime higher earnings for students who
graduate high school and reach various levels of postsecondary education is
almost three times the cost of K-12 education.