top of page
  • by Blaine Helwig

Why Are Public Schools FREE?

This is an interesting question. Public schools are not exactly free, of course. Parents often must pay for any number of items for their child to attend school including pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, school uniform (if required), etc. Any school supply list each August will verify that associated cost. However, the real cost for homeowners in Texas are local and Federal taxes. A percentage of a homeowner’s taxes funds public education and other governmental programs whether the taxpayer agrees with the expenditure or not. Regardless of where the state and federal money is spent, the Texas homeowner pays a significant portion in property taxes whether they rent or own their home. They also pay federal taxes each spring funding similar programs and expenditures. On second thought, public schools are not as ‘free’ as it sounds when I hear the term ‘free public schools.’

So, maybe the wrong question was asked, initially?

Why does the government want and require kids to go to school?

Kindergarten is not required in Texas. Although beginning with first grade, a parent is required to enroll their children in a traditional or charter public school, a parochial or private school or opt to homeschool their kids. But why?

I was driving back from the gym this morning, and I was in bumper to bumper, standstill traffic. There were two large and expensive school buses in the traffic lane adjacent to mine. As they stopped and started past me, I noticed both buses were full of elementary school aged children. As a former public educator, I surprisingly considered, ‘Why does the state or federal government care whether children attend school or not?’ In the last 35 adult years of my life, I had not really given it too much thought. Since there is so much money involved in public education and allocating money usually comes with conditions, the answer had to be self-serving in some form or manner.

When I got home, I researched on the Internet the amount of federal tax dollars that are allocated to public education. In 2016, it was around one hundred (100) billion dollars total for all programs excluding Pell Grants – divided amongst all fifty states mostly in the form of Title 1 expenditures. But, a majority of the expenses in public education is revenue from local and state taxes. In Texas in 2016, it appears to be in the fifty (50) to sixty (60) billion mark depending on the reliance of the stated fiscal facts. It really does not matter. It is a lot! A lot of taxpayer money is spent on ‘free’ public education.

Why would the State and Federal Governments allocate these

large sums of money on public education?

As I said, I believe the answer is self-interest and simple. Children grow-up to be adults. Taxpaying adults for that matter. When educated adults work, they make money. The more educated an adult, the better. The more innovative and higher salaried adult, the better. Education leads to more competitive companies employing more taxpaying adults. Both companies and adults pay taxes each year – permitting the funding of government agencies, programs and services. The whole societal system in all its intricacies and complexities is not only more stable but fiscally solvent when adults are better educated. It is in the local, State and Federal Government’s best interest to fund public education.

That leads us to the last question. If the government is spending this amount of money every year funding public education, ‘Why are so many of the Title 1 public schools in this country not producing better academic results?’ The schools have lots of money and are practicing. Practice should produce better results. When there is practice, there should be significant improvement. It can only mean one thing. However these Title 1 schools are practicing, it is more than obvious it is not aligned with student academic needs, performance and outcomes. It is costing a lot of money in each State to provide a ‘Free’ education that is more than apparent not of a high value in a majority of the country’s most challenging and needy schools. One would think, for that much money, the academic problems in rural and urban Title 1 elementary schools could be fixed. One would think!


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page