Figure 1 depicts the billions of dollars in outlays (money spent) by the Department of Education from 1980 to 2010.(1) These expenditures are not adjusted for inflation.(2)
Figure 1. Department of Education Spending 1980-2010 (billions of dollars)
Source: Ronald Reagan and Education Policy.
Figure 2, meanwhile, depicts these same data adjusted for inflation and expressed as 1981 dollars. Note the large difference in the size of the outlays and the rate of growth.
Figure 2. Department of Education Outlays, 1980-2010 (Expressed In Billions of 1981 Dollars)
Source: Data drawn from Ronald Reagan and Education Policy.
Two simple lessons can be drawn from these charts. First, it is important to adjust spending data for inflation. Second, as with most other federal agencies, spending by the Department of Education has risen greatly over time. (This is why I expressed Figure 2 as 1981 dollars—1981 was the year Ronald Reagan entered the presidency with a commitment to abolish the Department of education and reduce federal education spending.)
Now the questions for readers to answer is: why did outlays go up and down so sharply in recent years? Post your hypothesis in the “comments” area below.
(1) The above outlays do not include education expenditures by other federal agencies and should not be construed as “total federal education spending.”
(2) The data for these charts comes from the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2010: Historical Tables. I adjusted the data for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator.