Education Spending: Where Are Our Priorities?

Education Spending

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Where Are Our Priorities?

Everyone says education is important, but how does it stack up in the face of other major national priorities, and are we getting as much out of our educational system as other countries?

What We Spend

Federal, state and local governments spend a lot of money every year on education — more than a trillion bucks, in fact. Let’s look at education spending and how it relates to what else we’re paying for.

$1.06 trillion

Tax dollars spent on education, including primary, secondary and higher education (1)

That’s more than the national GDPs of Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Poland. (2)

We spend a lot, sure, but we also have a lot of money. How does our spending stack up with other priorities?

Proportion of federal, state and local government spending (2014) (1)

Pensions 19%

Healthcare 20.3%

Education 16%

Defense 13%

Welfare 8.3%

Other spending 6.6%

Interest 5.4%

Transportation 4.9%

Protection 4.1%

General government 2.6%

What about when you take into account what we produce as a nation?

5.4%

Education spending as a percentage of GDP (2)

Education spending as a percentage of GDP by decade (1)

1900s 1%

1920s 1.5%

1930s 4%

1940s 1.25%

1950s 2.6%

1960s 4%

1970s 5.7%

1980s 4.7%

1990s 5.3%

2000s 6.1%

2010s 5.4%

What Other Countries Spend

How does the 5.4% of GDP that we spend on education compare with what other countries spend?

Public expenditures on education as a percentage of GDP (2)

Lesotho: 13

Cuba: 12.8

Marshall Islands: 12.2

Kiribati: 12

Botswana: 9.5

Sao Tome and Principe: 9.5

Timor-Leste: 9.4

Denmark: 8.7

Namibia: 8.4

Moldova: 8.4

Djibouti: 8.4

Swaziland: 8.3

Ghana: 8.1

Iceland: 7.6

Comoros: 7.6

New Zealand: 7.4

Palau: 7.3

Solomon Islands: 7.3

Cyprus: 7.3

Sweden: 7

Norway: 6.9

Venezuela: 6.9

Malta: 6.9

Bolivia: 6.9

Kyrgyzstan: 6.8

Maldives: 6.8

Finland: 6.8

Kenya: 6.7

Belize: 6.6

Belgium: 6.6

Ireland: 6.4

Argentina: 6.3

Vietnam: 6.3

Costa Rica: 6.3

Ukraine: 6.2

United Kingdom: 6.2

Tanzania: 6.2

Tunisia: 6.2

Congo, Republic of the: 6.2

Jamaica: 6.1

Aruba: 6

South Africa: 6

France: 5.9

Austria: 5.9

Netherlands: 5.9

Malaysia: 5.9

Thailand: 5.8

Samoa: 5.8

Brazil: 5.8

Burundi: 5.8

Slovenia: 5.7

Estonia: 5.7

Senegal: 5.6

Barbados: 5.6

Portugal: 5.6

Australia: 5.6

Israel: 5.6

Mongolia: 5.5

Morocco: 5.4

Malawi: 5.4

Lithuania: 5.4

Canada: 5.4

United States: 5.4

Benin: 5.3

Poland: 5.2

Switzerland: 5.2

Yemen: 5.2

Saudi Arabia: 5.1

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: 5.1

Syria: 5.1

Belarus: 5.1

Mexico: 5.1

Rwanda: 5.1

Germany: 5.1

Korea, South: 5

Cabo Verde: 5

Latvia: 5

Mozambique: 5

Vanuatu: 5

Spain: 5

Hungary: 4.9

Serbia: 4.8

Mali: 4.8

Paraguay: 4.8

Ethiopia: 4.7

Bhutan: 4.7

Nepal: 4.7

Nicaragua: 4.6

Cote d’Ivoire: 4.6

Chile: 4.5

Togo: 4.5

Uruguay: 4.5

Italy: 4.5

Ecuador: 4.4

Colombia: 4.4

British Virgin Islands: 4.4

Algeria: 4.3

Kosovo: 4.3

Croatia: 4.3

Oman: 4.3

Niger: 4.2

Fiji: 4.2

Slovakia: 4.2

Romania: 4.2

Saint Kitts and Nevis: 4.2

Czech Republic: 4.2

Saint Lucia: 4.1

Bulgaria: 4.1

Gambia, The: 4.1

Russia: 4.1

Greece: 4.1

Grenada: 3.9

Tonga: 3.9

Tajikistan: 3.9

Japan: 3.8

Kuwait: 3.8

Egypt: 3.8

Luxembourg: 3.7

Iran: 3.7

Mauritania: 3.7

Seychelles: 3.6

Panama: 3.5

Mauritius: 3.5

Hong Kong: 3.5

Dominica: 3.5

Brunei: 3.5

Angola: 3.5

Burkina Faso: 3.4

El Salvador: 3.4

Albania: 3.3

Uganda: 3.3

Armenia: 3.3

Cameroon: 3.2

India: 3.2

Trinidad and Tobago: 3.2

Guyana: 3.2

Cook Islands: 3.1

Kazakhstan: 3.1

Guatemala: 3

Singapore: 3

Sierra Leone: 2.9

Turkey: 2.9

Indonesia: 2.8

Liberia: 2.8

Peru: 2.8

Anguilla: 2.8

Laos: 2.8

Macau: 2.7

Philippines: 2.7

Madagascar: 2.7

Bermuda: 2.6

Cambodia: 2.6

Bahrain: 2.6

Qatar: 2.5

Zimbabwe: 2.5

Guinea: 2.5

Congo, Democratic Republic of the: 2.5

Azerbaijan: 2.4

Antigua and Barbuda: 2.4

Chad: 2.3

Bangladesh: 2.2

Lebanon: 2.2

Dominican Republic: 2.2

Pakistan: 2.1

Eritrea: 2.1

Liechtenstein: 2.1

Georgia: 2

Sri Lanka: 1.7

Monaco: 1.6

Zambia: 1.3

Central African Republic: 1.2

Burma: 0.8

Equatorial Guinea: 0.6

Is It Worth the Money?

We’ve seen how much taxpayers spend on education. So what do we get out of it? Find out how the U.S. stacks up when it comes to educational outcomes.

25- to 34-year-olds with higher education (3)

South Korea 63.82%

Japan 58.70%

Canada 56.71%

Russia 56.46%

Ireland 47.20%

United Kingdom 46.91%

Norway 46.81%

New Zealand 46.05%

Israel 45.04%

Australia 44.62%

United States 43.13%

France 43.01%

Sweden 42.87%

Chile 41.30%

Switzerland 39.81%

Netherlands 39.78%

Poland 39.21%

Spain 39.16%

Denmark 38.58%

Greece 32.52%

Hungary 28.11%

Germany 27.67%

Portugal 26.92%

Czech Republic 25.12%

Mexico 22.54%

Austria 21.17%

Italy 20.98%

Turkey 18.87%

Brazil 12.74%

Percentage of population completing high school-level education (3)

Japan 95.58%

South Korea 92.91%

United Kingdom 92.90%

Germany 92.45%

Netherlands 79.65%

Denmark 79.35%

Norway 77.69%

Portugal 67.93%

Ireland 87.73%

Spain 88.07%

Hungary 81.93%

Canada 80.85%

Israel 84.73%

Poland 82.15%

Chile 79.02%

Italy 78.66%

Czech Republic 76.33%

United States 77.44%

Sweden 75.43%

China 73.13%

Greece 67.52%

Austria 64.18%

Turkey 56.20%

Better Than the Alternative

The U.S. educational system may not produce the best outcomes, particularly relative to how much is spent, but education is still perhaps the single best way to escape from poverty and better your lot in life.

Median weekly earnings (4)

Bachelor’s degree $1,066

High school $652

Jobs requiring higher education (5)

1970 26%

Today 60%

Education Spending

Sources:
1. http://www.usgovernmentspending.com
2. https://www.cia.gov
3. http://www.oecd.org
4. http://www.bls.gov
5. http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org