Economy

Here's How Military and Education Spending Compare in America

We spend a lot of time talking about the value of an education in America.

But if education is such a valuable investment, why do we spend more than eight times as much of our federal budget on the military than schooling?

One indicator of a nation's priorities lies in its federal budget. And by that logic, America's budget makes clear that we prioritize defense over all other expenditures — by a wide margin. In 2015, military expenditures accounted for about 54 percent of our discretionary spending, according to The National Priorities Project. In contrast, education accounted for only six percent of the budget.

It's true — as Forbes' Erik Kain points out — that state and local governments generally foot the bill when it comes to education spending in America. If you factor those contributions in, the U.S. spent about $880 billion on education in 2011, compared to $966 billion total on defense. And a 2012 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that America invested about $15,500 per student for primary, secondary and tertiary schooling — one of the highest in the world.

US Military Spending

But that doesn't change the fact that federal spending on education pales in comparison to military expenditures.

And it can certainly be argued that investing more in education at the federal level could mitigate some of the problems — underfunded schools and underpaid teachers, for example — that continue to plague school districts across the country.

Perhaps that would require the U.S. to reevaluate its federal budget priorities, compromising some of its military expenditures. But according to the White House's own estimates, investing in education (specifically in early childhood learning) yields profits later in life. For every dollar invested in early childhood education programs, society benefits to the tune of $8.60, "about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up," a 2012 report from the Council of Economic Advisers found.

What's more, studies show that putting more money into education also increases the chances that students (particularly low-income students) will complete school.

"[A] 10 percent increase in spending, on average, leads children to complete 0.27 more years of school, to make wages that are 7.25 percent higher and to have a substantially reduced chance of falling into poverty," Bloomberg reports. "These are long-term, durable results. Conclusion: throwing money at the problem works."

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