There’s been a lot of talk recently about the pros and cons of a universal basic income.
There’s also been a lot of talk about how expensive this would be.
But, from my quick analysis, I actually think quite a few major cities could institute a child based basic income utilizing only existing tax revenues.
I. Numerous big cities spend over $20,000 per student
Getting accurate city per-pupil spending amounts can be a near impossible task, but nearly all sources I reviewed showed that Washington D.C., Newark, and New York City spend at least ~$18K a student. I think Boston spends around this as well.
And higher end estimates get closer to $25-30K per student.
For the sake of modeling out how to end child poverty, let’s assume ~$20K per student.
II. Giving $5K per student per year basic income back to families
Let’s say that starting next school year, each of these cities decided to reduce public education spending from $20K to $15K per student, and instead of giving this money back to taxpayers, provided a universal basic income of $5K per child back to families.
Assuming your average family has about two kids in the public school system, that’s $10K per family.
That won’t make any family rich, but it would probably get most families out of deep poverty.
III. A $5K per student spending reduction would likely not lead to major education losses
Dropping to $15K per student would still put these cities ahead of the national average of ~$10K per student. Even adjusting for cost of living differences, none of the cities would be that far off typical educational spending.
To get a taste for what cities are able to achieve with various students and spending, see below:
The above is by no means an accurate picture of school system effectiveness, as it’s based on absolute scores rather than growth; however, it provides decent evidence that schools systems that spend $10K-15K to student can still achieve relatively ok outcomes.
50% of the top ten adjusted scoring cities in the country are located in Texas and Florida, both of which spend very modestly.
Ultimately, the students in Washington D.C., Newark, and New York City are different than students in other cities, so we can’t make any claims with 100% confidence, but the experience of other cities suggests that spending $15K per student is enough to provide an education on par with other major cities across the country.
IV. What do you think parents would want?
Somebody should poll this question, but I expect families that have two children would rather have $10K in cash per year / $15K in education spending rather than $0K in cash / $20K in education spending.
For many of these families, $10K per year would be absolutely game changing.
It would be very interesting for an aspiring politician to run on this as a single issue platform. Or to take the issue to a popular referendum.
V. Trade off that no one explicitly made
Here’s the thing: every marginal $1K increase in education spending can be justified at the time. There’s always a compelling financial ask to be made when families in poverty are struggling to get a great education.
But, eventually, these marginal increases can lead to spending allocations that just might be out of line with what families want and what might be in the public interest.
My guess is that providing a $5K per student basic income to families – and reducing educational spending by the same amount – would increase the welfare of families in some cities.