Public expenditure on education as a percentage of the U.S. economy in 2010 was below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, which ranked the U.S. 18th out of 29 OECD countries. The data, however, does not reveal a clear trend for public investment in education since the mid-1980s or evidence that it has been allowed to wither, according to Eugene Kiely of Fact Check.
In a December 4th speech at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Washington, D.C., President Obama said public investment in schools was allowed to wither as a result of the trickle-down ideology of recent decades. Obama spoke on economic inequality, saying that starting in the late 1970s, he said the social compact between government and its people “began to unravel.”
There is no clear trend for public spending on education as a percentage of the U.S. economy, but public investment hasn’t decreased. It has increased from 4.7% in 1985 to 5.1% in 2010 with ups and downs along the way.
We were curious about his harsh assessment of public investment in educational spending. His reference to tax cuts and a “trickle-down ideology” is no doubt a reference to the tax cuts under Republican administrations, beginning in the 1980s with President Reagan. But has public investment been allowed to wither since then? We asked the White House for evidence, but it provided none.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provided Fact Check with various reports that contained expenditure data from the OECD, which regularly produces reports on public spending on education as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) for each member nation, including the United States.
“The percentage of the GDP spent on education from public sources may reflect the value a country places on education, as well as differences in income within a country,” according to a NCES report.
Fact Check reviewed four NCES reports that collectively contained data from 1985 through 2010 for education spending. The specific reports covered 1985 through 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998, and the most recent one for the years 2000, 2005, and 2008 through 2010. Fact Check looked specifically at the data on public spending as a percent of GDP for all education levels, from primary school through higher education institutions. There were no data for some years. In all, there were 16 data points over a 26-year period.
According to reports, public spending on education was 4.7% of GDP in 1985 and 5.1% in 2010. The high during that period was 5.5% in 1991 and the low was 4.6% in 2000.
The OECD data, too, only goes back to 1985 and the president referenced tax cuts that began in the early 1980s. A chart provided by NCES shows total expenditures — public and private — as a percent of GDP from 1929 through 2011.
Additionally, the chart does not separate the public and private investments, but it does show total expenditures tumbling from a high point in the 1970s of 7% of GDP in 1975 to a low in the 1980s of 6.1% in 1981, 1984 and 1985.