Monday, October 15, 2018

The Lesson of Child Care Expenses

The group Child Care Aware last summer posted their answer to the question every parent of a little asks-- if child care costs so much, why aren't child care providers rich? They have a nifty little video that simplifies the answer so that even the math-impaired can get it.

Imagine your going rate is $10,000 per year per child. Assume a child care center with forty students, and therefor looking at revenue of $400,000. Where does that go?

$45K for building and maintenance.

$92K for classroom materials, food, and administrative costs (niceties like liability insurance).

Boom. You've burnt through all but about $260K, and you need to hire a director, three lead teachers (one for each classroom) and six assistant teachers (in most states, the law dictates what you need for personnel). That means your director makes about $22/hour while your assistants get about $10.50/hour. Nobody here is getting rich. In fact, depending on the specifics of your location, the whole thing may barely be staying in business.

I'll think of this now every time somebody wants to complain that the public school system is filled with waste and that spending just keeps increasing but taxpayers aren't getting more bang for their bucks. Because what is the above model except a much simpler version-- to get a real public school we'd have to add students with assorted special needs for which we needed more classrooms and more materials. Of course, we'd have to add more expensive professionals, but we'd compensate for that by cutting the number-- where your state law might require nine teachers and assistants spread over three classrooms for forty students, in some schools we just pack forty students into one room with one teacher (because while we have laws to protect the tiniest children from being under-supervised, we're not so concerned about actual school students).

It's not cheap to do education right, or even half-right. If there are any simple truths we struggle to avoid in this country, that's one of them.


  1. The "cost-per-pupil" in the Albany City School District (NY)
    is $21,000.

    To demonstrate to the critics just how deceptive "cost-per-pupil" spending is, just do the math.

    First grade teacher Ms. Cash has a class of 28 children. At $21K per student, this suggests to the critics that she has a $588,000.00 budget to run her first grade class. Let's skim $138K in salaries; that's Ms. Cash and the pro-rated salaries of the special area teachers her kids visit one or two periods a day, plus the pro-rated skim for two building administrators. This theoretically leaves Ms. Cash with $450,000 left over to run her class for the year - or $2,500 per day ($12,500/wk). Surprisingly Ms. Cash will tell you that she spends over $500 of her own money to keep her class running for the year. Now the critic says, "See all that waste, almost half a million dollars into the black hole of the public education bureaucracy. And that's just one teacher!"

    The critics say this never pausing to think that running a school district is more like running a small town. Food, transportation, utilities, lawyers, pensions, sports, band, health care, counseling, meetings, consultants, workshops, PD sessions, central administration, building and grounds, custodial staff, and more.

    I just wish they would stop dividing the total operating budget by the total number of students and then calling it cost per pupil. More like cost to run our seasonal town.